The newly released Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017 shows 291 people died as a result of drowning in Australia in the 2016/17 financial year. 42 of these drowning deaths occurred in Western Australia, which is an 11% increase on the previous year.
In WA the highest number of deaths occurred in people aged 25‐54 years (52%). Just over one quarter (28%) of all drowning deaths in our state occurred in inland waterways such as rivers, creeks, lakes and dams. Almost one quarter of all deaths (24%) took place while swimming and recreating.
Lauren Nimmo, Senior Manager Health Promotion & Research, Royal Life Saving Society WA says “West Australians love the water. It’s an important part of our culture. The sad fact that 42 people drowned in our state last year is a sobering reminder to always actively supervise children around water, for people young and old to learn to swim and survive, to increase lifejacket use, reduce alcohol consumption around water and to always Respect the River.”
The nation’s inland waterways continue to be the leading location for fatal drowning, accounting for 97 deaths in 2016/17, almost one third of the total. This included 68 at rivers and creeks, and 29 at lakes and dams. In Western Australia, there was a 23% increase in the number of deaths occurring at inland waterways compared to the previous year with the majority occurring at rivers, creeks and streams in regional and remote areas of the state.
The report also highlights that people were almost four times more likely to drown in regional and remote areas of Western Australia than in the Perth metropolitan area. Royal Life Saving WA's Lauren Nimmo says “the fact that people in regional and remote areas of our state are at such high risk of drowning is concerning. These areas are often remote with limited access and mobile phone coverage resulting in delayed emergency response. It highlights the need for improved access to appropriate swimming and water safety programs to ensure they have the knowledge and skills needed to participate safely in the unique aquatic environments that exist in these areas.”
Nationally, drowning in children under the age of five increased last year, with 29 children aged 0‐4 losing their life, a 38% increase on the previous year. However, Ms Nimmo says our state recorded just one drowning death in this age group. “In Western Australia there was a decrease in the number of toddlers under the age of five years who drowned, which highlights the success of the important work being done in WA through the Keep Watch and Infant Aquatics programs.”
Royal Life Saving Society WA, with the assistance of Principal Community Partner BHP, is working hard to reduce drowning in our state. In regional and remote areas our Remote Aboriginal Swimming Pools program recorded more than 38,000 patrons visiting the pools across 6 communities during the 2016/17 financial year. 2631 children and young adults achieve a lifesaving award by participating in programs at these pools during this time. Across the state 23,788 babies and toddlers took part in our Infant Aquatics program, while 197,648 children took part in Swim and Survive, learning vital swimming and water safety skills to enable them to safely enjoy WA’s many water locations throughout their lifetime.
In 2008 the Australian Water Safety Council set an ambitious goal of reducing drowning by 50% by 2020. Interim analysis shows an overall 24% reduction in fatal drowning despite significant changes in the size and makeup of the Australian population. “Reducing drowning by 24% is a significant achievement and means there are 90 people alive in Australia today who otherwise would have drowned last year. The most pleasing progress has been in reducing drowning in children aged 0‐14 years by 36%, and we remain determined to achieve the 50% target over the coming years.” says Ms Nimmo.