Over the five-year reporting period, an average of 370 people died and 618 were hospitalised each year as a result of drowning, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
Renate Kreisfeld of the Institute's National Injury Surveillance Unit based at Flinders University in Adelaide said, 'perhaps not surprisingly, by far the highest rate of hospitalisations for near-drownings were children aged 4 years and under'.
'Males had consistently higher rates of drowning deaths and hospitalisations than females across all age groups'.
The report, Deaths and hospitalisations due to drowning, Australia 1999-00 to 2003-04, shows that around one-third of all drowning deaths occurred in natural bodies of water such as beaches, lakes, the open sea, rivers and streams, while 10% of deaths occurred in swimming pools, and 10% were boat-/watercraft-related.
'The dangers of swimming pools for very young children are readily apparent in the data we have analysed for this report', Ms Kreisfeld said.
'The highest death rates for swimming pool drowning was in the 0-4 year age.'
Coroners' data showed that by far the most important factor identified for young children and death by drowning in swimming pools was the lack of adequate supervision. Various aspects of pool fencing and gates were also commonly identified as contributing factors.
Over the period covered by the report, around 20 deaths a year were the result of drowning in bathtubs, with 47 hospitalisations for near-drownings.
In such cases epilepsy, other seizure disorders, and inadequate or non-existent supervision were factors commonly identified by coroners. Alcohol intoxication was also mentioned frequently in case documents.
Approximately 37 drowning deaths and 65 hospitalisations per year were watercraft-related. These incidents often occurred while the person was engaged in a leisure activity.
An annual average of 56 drowning deaths and 39 hospitalisations were due to intentional self-harm.