Let’s be safer this summer!

I am writing this article with mixed emotions. On one hand I am so excited to see the weather getting warmer (intermittently!), and summer on its way. On the other, as we progress through 2022 we are seeing the repercussions on our industry that we feared during the pandemic become a reality.
Every year, Royal Life Saving produces a National Drowning Report, examining the factors that contribute to drowning deaths in Australia. This year’s report showed a significant increase in drowning deaths across the country, with 339 people losing their lives between 1st July 2021 and 30th June 2022. This is an increase of 15% compared to the previous year, and a 24% increase when compared to the 10-year average. In addition, there were 686 non-fatal drowning events that led to hospitalisation, with possible ongoing health complications. This is terribly sad and confronting, especially given this reported figure reverses years of progress, and that every statistic represents a real person and unimaginable grief for the loved ones of that person.
There were 17 drowning deaths among children aged 0-4 years, which is a 29% decrease on last year and a 23% decrease on the 10-year average – an improvement after a rising tragically during covid lockdowns. However, 15 drowning deaths occurred in children aged 5-14 years, a 7% increase on last year and a 36% increase on the 10-year average, which the report states “is perhaps a reflection of children missing out on swimming lessons……. the temporary closure of aquatic facilities and swim schools during the worst of the pandemic is likely to impact Australians for years to come, with children missing long periods of swimming and water safety education, the aquatic industry now struggling to recruit instructors and lifeguards”. The impact on the aquatic industry is certainly something we have experienced daily over the past 12 months, and we are only now beginning to get back to pre pandemic staffing numbers after a major recruitment drive and instructor training program.
The report also suggests that “new behaviours have also emerged, with Australians increasingly seeking out secluded and often unpatrolled waterways to visit or finding a new enthusiasm for domestic tourism taking them further away from the safety of their local pool or patrolled beach”. Swimming and recreating was the leading activity undertaken before drowning, accounting for 22% of all drowning deaths. In addition, rivers and creeks were the leading location for drowning (34%), something we have to be very mindful of in our local area with the beautiful Nepean River on our doorstep.
We must also be very mindful of our backyard swimming pools, with swimming pools the location of 34% of all drownings in the 0-14 years age group.
All of which is incredibly depressing, however there is no point dwelling on the statistics. Instead we intend to use these figures to continue to fuel our passion to keep our community safer by providing swimming lessons all year round for all ages and by continuing to educate about pool safety at every opportunity. Let’s focus on what we as a community can do to bring these figures down, especially as history has proven year after year that most drownings happen during the summer months. There were 145 drowning deaths last year, an increase of 44% on the ten year average.
Backyard swimming pools present one of the greatest risks to children. Of the 17 children aged 0-4 who drowned last year, 35% happened in swimming pools, with 76% being the result of a fall. Even in the older 5-14 year age group, 33% of deaths occurred in swimming pools, with 33% being the result of a fall. Laurie Lawrences “Kids Alive, Do the 5” campaign and resources have been educating families for over thirty years with their five simple rules to stay safe at the pool – fence the pool, shut the gate, learn to swim, supervise children around the water, and learn CPR. All of these actions provide layers of protection for our children.
Please don’t be distracted when with children around water – nothing is more important than their safety. Put the phone down and enjoy this precious time in the sun. “It can only take a few moments for a child to slip away unnoticed, fall into the water and drown”, said Justin Scarr, CEO at Royal Life Saving Society Australia. “Drowning is often quick and silent”.
Be aware of everyday situations that present a drowning risk to young children. Watch children in the bath, and empty eskys and portable pools, and be aware of large water bowls for pets – children can drown in only a tiny amount of water.
Another location where we need to be aware of the risks is our rivers. 114 people drowned in rivers and creeks last year, almost double the previous year, and a 65% increase on the ten year average. Royal Life Saving Australia (RLSA) recommends a broader set of five safety precautions when in any aquatic environment. Always supervise children around the water – accidents happen so quickly, we can’t risk not having our children in our line of sight for even a few seconds. Avoid alcohol and drugs around the water – 45 of last years drowning deaths were known to involve alcohol, and 62 were known to have involved drugs. Your risk fluctuates greatly according to gender – with males accounting for 82% of last year’s drownings deaths.
When boating and fishing, RLSA further recommends that you must always wear a lifejacket, avoid going alone, and be sure to know the conditions. Boating is the second highest activity preceding drowning, behind swimming and recreating.
Let’s all work together to stay safer this summer! Even one local tragedy is one too many.