Falls and vehicle accidents behind drownings

By: Andrew Hobbs

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Unintentional falls and accidents while using non-aquatic transport are the two most common causes of drowning in dams on regional properties, researchers from Royal Life Saving Australia say

Falls and vehicle accidents behind drownings
The Australian Water Safety Strategy 2030 aims to reduce the number of Australian drowning deaths by half


Most victims of drowning in dams are children under four – but water safety is not only a child protection issue, researchers from Royal Life Saving Australia say

Of the 248 child drowning deaths that occurred in Australia between 2009–10 and 2018–19, 10 per cent occurred at lakes and dams.

A total of 112 people drowned in dams from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2018 – of which 20 per cent were children aged under four years old.

Typically, 288 unintentional drownings occur annually – of which 55 per cent occur outside major cities and 37 per cent occur in inland waterways – which is the largest proportion of any aquatic location.

Speaking at the Farmsafe Virtual Conference in November, Royal Life Saving Society Australia national manager of research and policy Stacey Pidgeon said in many cases these drownings occurred when adults were preoccupied with work, letting the child wander off.

"I know it is pretty hard to fence a river lake or dam, but we do recommend creating a child-safe play area around the house when we know it is not practical or feasible to fence off bodies of water like you would for a swimming pool," she says.

On top of this, it is important to be aware of new water bodies – where places that were previously dry were now starting to fill up thanks to more rainfall.

She also called for more first aid and CPR training for rural workers, and for these farm workers to go in groups or at least tell colleagues where they were going when working near a dam.

Data shows that while most dam drownings occur following an unintentional fall – a dataset that includes child deaths – the second highest cause was drowning while using non-aquatic transport, including cars, trucks, motorbikes and ATVs.

"What we are seeing is more adult men drowning when undertaking work related tasks on rural properties and often they are alone, so people don’t know where they are and don’t know how to raise the alarm, and it means that it takes longer for people to respond and get to that person."

Alison Mahony, also a national manager of research and policy for Royal Life Saving Australia, says the Australian Water Safety Strategy 2030 will aim to reduce the number of Australian drowning deaths by half, by 2030.

Among the focuses of future drowning prevention campaigns will be promoting safe play areas for children and highlighting the risk faced by ag workers on properties with unfenced waterbodies.

Conducting local risk assessment to better understand environmental hazards at high risk locations and incorporating drowning prevention measures into agricultural risk assessments and relevant training for workers will also be included, she says.

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