Think about non-fatal drownings

Mick O'Sullivan.
Mick O'Sullivan.

As pool season approaches Mudgee swimming coach Mick O’Sullivan wants to draw parents’ attention to research that highlights the cost of non-fatal drownings.

A report by the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia has found that for every fatal drowning of a child under the age of four, eight to nine children on average are admitted to hospital each year with non-fatal drowning injuries.

These sometimes result in severe brain injuries and learning disabilities.

Mr O’Sullivan said that while fatal drownings are focused on, non-fatal incidents aren’t at the forefront of people’s thinking.

“Parents talk to me not wanting their child to drown and want lessons,” he said.

“They don’t think about the bigger possibility of injury that can last for a lifetime.”

Of the non-fatal drowning incidents that occurred in home swimming pools, 75 per cent involved children under five years of age and nearly 10 per cent involved children between the ages of five to nine.

Children under four represented 42 per cent of those hospitalised.

The RLSSA research means that for the first time, there is comprehensive data to complement anecdotal accounts of non-drownings.  

Researchers determined that between 2002 and 2015, 6158 people were admitted to hospital after a non-fatal drowning. The number of incidents increased by 42 per cent in that time, from 394 to 561 a year, while fatal drownings fell by 17 per cent, from 192 to 159.  .  

Of those admitted to hospital after a non-fatal incident, 5 per cent of cases were so serious that they accounted for about 88 per cent of the $188 million annual cost of treatment.

RLSSA's national research manager Amy Peden said the large number of non-fatal injuries could be a result of more awareness by families of the need to seek help after someone submerged in water experiences any kind of respiratory problems.

It could also be because of an increase in the practice of CPR, which is saving many lives.

Justin Scarr, the chief executive of RLSSA, said many children who survived a drowning lived with significant lifelong medical issues that shortened their life and placed great emotional and financial strain on their families.


Traditionally the term drowning has been used to describe someone who died from submersion or immersion in water, but the World Health Organisation recommends the use of fatal and non-fatal drowning. This has been adopted by health officials in Australia to convey the size of the real problem, and to provide for better global and national monitoring of this safety risk.


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