The statistics tell a sobering tale

Opinion: The statistics tell a sobering tale


Opinion
According to Royal Life Saving Australia, drownings in inland rivers, creeks and streams accounted for 25 per cent of all drowning deaths in 2017/18.

According to Royal Life Saving Australia, drownings in inland rivers, creeks and streams accounted for 25 per cent of all drowning deaths in 2017/18.

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We still have a lot of summer to get through and already we have seen far too many drownings on Australia’s beaches and inland waterways.

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We still have a lot of summer to get through and already we have seen far too many drownings on Australia’s beaches and inland waterways.

This is a tragedy for the victims, their families, their friends and their communities.

Royal Life Saving Australia reports the largest share of costs from drowning, for both fatal and non-fatal incidents, come from the value of years of life lost to death and disability. In 2017/18 it was calculated fatal drowning led to the loss of 10,335 years of life over a 15-year period.

Think also of the first responders who try in vain to save these people and the trauma they must experience.

In September, Royal Life Saving Australia reported drownings had declined in Australia to an all-time low in the previous 17/18 financial year.

Sadly, in the month up to and including January 1, 48 drownings were reported across the nation, up from 31 in the same period a year ago.

The statistics on who is drowning and why present a sobering picture but also contain some surprises. It is well known many drownings of migrants and tourists have recently accounted for up to a third of drownings in Australia.

This is concerning and there is definitely more we should be doing to educate visitors to Australia about the dangers of our waterways.

What isn’t as well appreciated is that this still leaves a large chunk of drowning victims from Australia, including children and those who have some level of swimming skill and in many cases, are familiar with the waters they drown in.

Another common misconception is that the majority of drownings occur on our coastline at beaches. Drownings in inland rivers, creeks and streams are more prevalent, according to the last Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report, accounting for 25 per cent of all drowning deaths in 2017/18.

There are a number of different factors contributing to this but a common theme is that the dangers are often underestimated and swimming abilities are often overestimated.  

People swimming in these waterways often felt more secure due to the flat and still nature of the water but currents can still be strong and dangerous. There are no lifeguards on inland rivers either and there are risks present in unseen, submerged objects.

Some tips for safe swimming on inland rivers, include:

  • Check for currents, depth and submerged objects before entering the water. Throw a twig or leaf into the water to see the speed it travels and use a stick to check depth.
  • Don’t dive straight into water, enter feet first.
  • Don’t swim alone.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol around water.
  • Supervise children around swimming areas.

Be aware, be careful and spread the message about safe swimming. One drowning death is one too many.

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