On Monday 4th December, and to mark the start of summer and Water Safety Week, LSV launched its Victorian Drowning Report for 2016/17 at Lifeguards@200, revealing 45 people (78% male, 12% female) lost their lives to drowning in Victoria during the 2016/17 financial year, a 20% increase on the ten-year average.
LSV’s Principal Research Associate, Dr Bernadette Matthews, who compiled the report, said paramedics also attended 54 non-fatal drowning incidents in Victoria during the period, bringing the number of drowning incidents across the state to 99.
The event brought together an array of aquatic agencies to hear from LSV President Tom Mollenkopf, Dr Matthews, Triathlon Victoria Executive Director Grant Cosgriff (on behalf of the Play it Safe by the Water committee) and a moving personal account from Derek Wilson, the father of two young children who drowned at Gunnamatta almost 20 years ago, sparking the need for better signage at coastal locations.
The report also revealed a 6% increase in the drowning rate for children aged 0-4 years, a 25% increase for young adults aged 15-24 years, an 18% increase for adults aged 25-44 years and a 45% increase for adults aged 65 years and over, compared to the ten-year average, showing there’s still more work to be done to educate the public.
Two new inclusions in this year’s report provided further snapshots of drowning in public swimming pools, as well as children drowning in home pools. Both of these issues have been identified as key priority areas for action and will be areas of significant focus in drowning prevention activities for 2017/18, with a need to improve home pool barrier requirements and highlight the importance of supervision.
“Drownings are shocking to both families of the victims and the public, especially because each drowning could have been prevented,” says Dr Matthews. “Non-fatal drownings gain less attention, but they also have far-reaching effects on families and also on the victims, who may never fully recover. Including all drowning incidents gives a fuller picture and is important in formulating our prevention tactics.”
She says the increase of drowning in older adults is being addressed through the Play it Safe by the Water campaign. Over summer this age group will continue to be targeted with TV, radio and online advertisements, supported with targeted practical water safety programs, for example the Grey Medallion program.
“The most common activity immediately prior to a drowning in 2016/17 was swimming/paddling/ wading, representing 29% of fatal and 26% of non-fatal drowning incidents,” says Dr Matthews. “These figures highlight the importance of all Victorians having the opportunity to learn swimming and water safety skills.”
Alcohol has been a continuing trend in drowning incidents. It was a factor this year in 22% of cases. Notably there has been an average of nine drowning alcohol related deaths each year over the past decade (2006/07 to 2015/16).
In terms of boating-related drownings, the figures showed that in 74% of boating drowning incidents the person was not wearing a lifejacket.
Differing from the past two years, the majority of drowning deaths in 2016/17 occurred in inland waterways (42%, 19 drowning deaths as compared to 32% in coastal locations). This is a 48% increase, when we compare to the 10-year average.
“The statistics in the report show there’s still work to be done in educating Victorians on water safety, as well as in showing them safe ways to recreate in, on and around the water,” says Dr Matthews. “It’s what drives all of us working within the Play it Safe by the Water campaign; we’re all working towards the same aim of saving lives.”
As part of the launch, ten ‘everyday lifesavers’ were awarded certificates for their quick-thinking actions that helped save a life. Find out more here.
Watch Dr Bernadette Matthews on Channel Ten’s Studio 10 talking about the report and the alarming spike in drowning deaths here.
Read more about the report in the Herald Sun article here.
View or download a copy of the full Victorian Drowning Report 2017 here.