The National Drowning Report 2021 shows drowning deaths in the 12 months to June 30, 2021 increased by 20 per cent over the preceding year.
While deaths in swimming pools have actually decreased by 17 per cent over the 10-year average, sadly total deaths of children under five across all locations have increased by a massive 108 per cent year-on-year, and by nine per cent compared to the 10-year average.
Justin Scarr, chief executive officer of the Royal Life Saving Society – Australia, puts some of the blame on covid and the resulting closure of swimming pools, depriving children of much needed lessons. Whatsmore, he says this negative effect could last longer than simply the covid period.
“Swim school closures and falling learn-to-swim enrolments may have generational impacts on swimming and lifesaving skills,” he says in the report’s introduction.
This means that while swimming pools are beginning to reopen across Australia at the time of writing, lasting damage may already have been done.
Public swimming pools are part of our national identity. Australia has more than 2000 aquatic facilities and employs more than 67,000 workers. In addition to providing exercise and recreation opportunities, they are vital for swimming and lifesaving education. The social, health and economic benefits of the aquatic industry to Australia are worth more than $9 billion.
Scarr says that beyond the numbers, the value of public spaces has been highlighted in a very personal way for many Australians over the past year.
“The loss of exercise, recreation and learning provided by aquatic facilities has impacted people across the nation. While the future is uncertain, we remain committed to working with our partners in the aquatic sector to ensure all Australians are able to access, enjoy and benefit from aquatic facilities.”
The report highlights research and analysis of fatal and non-fatal drowning across Australia between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021. During this time, 294 people lost their lives to drowning and RLS estimates a further 674 people experienced a non-fatal drowning incident.
The findings show that:
• Drowning deaths increased by 20 per cent on the previous year;
• People aged 25 to 34 years accounted for 17 per cent of the total number of deaths, the most of any age group;
• Rivers remain the leading location for drowning with deaths increasing by 3 per cent compared with the 10-year average;
• Tragically, deaths among children aged 0-4 years increased by 9 per cent compared with the 10-year average and 108 per cent compared with previous year.
The increase in drowning among children under five years is devastating. Young children are at high risk of drowning, particularly as they become more mobile and curious about their surroundings.
Prolonged periods of stay-at-home directives while working and schooling from home is challenging for parents and carers, increasing the likelihood of distractions around the home environment and lapses in child supervision.
Keep Watch encourages parents to follow four simple actions to prevent child drowning; Supervise, Restrict, Teach and Respond.
30 drowning deaths occurred in swimming pools in the reported period. Sadly, eight children under five drowned in swimming pools.
There was a seven per cent increase overall for drowning incidents in swimming pools, although compared to the 10-year average the number of drownings had decreased by 17 per cent.
Of all the drowning incidents in swimming pools over the reported period, 77 per cent were male.