Reducing drowning deaths: the continued challenge of immersion fatalities in Australia

Med J Aust. 2010 Feb 1;192(3):123-6. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2010.tb03448.x.


Objective: To explore 5 years of drowning deaths in Australia compared with a previous Australian study a decade earlier, and to assess the feasibility of achieving a 50% reduction in unintentional drowning deaths by 2020.

Design and setting: An audit of all unintentional drowning deaths in Australia using data from the National Coroners Information System for 1 July 2002 to 30 June 2007.

Main outcome measures: Number and rate of drowning deaths, by age, sex, location, activity, place of birth, visitor status, and involvement of alcohol or drugs.

Results: There were 1452 drowning deaths during the study period (76.4% male). The age-adjusted rate per 100 000 people ranged from 1.61 in 2002-03 to 1.23 in 2006-07. Children aged 0-4 years had the highest rate (2.63 per 100 000 people), and 29% of deaths were of people aged 55 years or older. Over half of all deaths occurred in rivers (20.3%), at beaches (18.3%), or in swimming pools (13.3%). Alcohol was involved in 21.6% of all drowning deaths, although this varied by age.

Conclusions: This audit suggests that a 50% reduction in drowning fatalities by 2020 may be achievable using current knowledge and preventive systems in certain types of immersions. However, further research and new initiatives will be required, particularly to prevent drowning deaths in rivers and of older people.

MeSH terms

  • Accident Prevention
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Bathing Beaches / statistics & numerical data
  • Baths / mortality
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Drowning / mortality*
  • Drowning / prevention & control*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Rivers
  • Sex Distribution
  • Swimming Pools / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult