Most injuries, whether unintentional or intentional, are preventable (WHO 2014). Despite this, every year in Australia, thousands of people die and many more are admitted to hospital or attend hospital emergency departments because of injuries. While people with minor injuries typically recover completely, people with serious injuries, if they survive, often have lasting health problems (Gabbe et al. 2017).

Injuries can happen to anyone, but some population groups are more at risk than others, such as people who live in areas that are more remote or have a lower socioeconomic position, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, older people and males (Figures 1 and 2).

The leading causes of injury and injury deaths in Australia include unintentional falls, transport crashes and intentional self-harm and suicide (AIHW 2020a, b) (Figures 1 and 2). Other causes of injury and injury deaths include exposure to animate and inanimate mechanical forces, assault, poisoning, thermal causes, and drownings and submersions. Exposure to animate forces includes contact with animals (for example, being bitten or struck by an animal) and contact with people (for example, being hit unintentionally by another person). Exposure to inanimate forces includes contact with tools, machinery, or sharp or exploding objects. Injuries commonly have multiple causes. For example, frailty and weak bones contribute to fall-related injury in old age.

Understanding the data on injury and injury deaths is an important factor in creating effective measures—for example, appropriate legislation, policies, education and technology—to reduce the risk of injury.

Falls are the leading cause of injury and injury deaths

In 2017–18, almost 223,000 cases of hospitalised injury and more than 5,100 injury deaths were due to unintentional falls. Falls were estimated to cost the Australian health system $3.9 billion in 2015–16 (AIHW 2019a).

How common are injuries?

Hospitalised injury cases

In 2017–18, over 532,500 cases of injury resulted in admission to hospital in Australia:

  • The rate of hospitalised injury was 2,148 per 100,000 population.
  • The main causes of hospitalised injury were falls (42%), followed by injury due to inanimate mechanical forces (14%) and transport crashes (12%).
  • The most common areas of the body injured were the head and neck (22%) and the hip and lower limb (20%). The most common types of hospitalised injury were fractures (38%) and open wounds (15%).
  • Males accounted for more than half (55%) of all hospitalised injury cases. The rate of injury for males overall was 2,368 cases per 100,000 males, compared with 1,931 per 100,000 females. This difference remained when differences in age structure were accounted for (2,336 per 100,000 for males and 1,781 for females).
  • For both males and females, rates of hospitalised injury were highest in people aged 65 and over. Males had higher rates of hospitalised injury than females in all age groups from 0–64, but from the age of 65, females had a higher rate, with females aged 85 and over having much higher rates than males.
  • The age-standardised rate of hospitalised injury for Indigenous Australians was almost double (3,903 per 100,000) that for non-Indigenous Australians (1,991).
  • The age-standardised rate of injury in Very remote regions (4,313 per 100,000 population) was more than double the rate in Major cities (1,901).
  • The age-standardised rate of hospitalised injury increased with decreasing socioeconomic position—from 1,892 per 100,000 in the highest socioeconomic areas, to 2,118 in the lowest socioeconomic areas.

See Hospital care.
 

This horizontal bar chart shows that the number and rate of hospitalised injury cases varies by cause of injury, age group and sex. Falls: 222,725 cases, inanimate forces: 74,482 cases, transport crash: 62,387 cases, intentional self-harm: 29,493 cases, animate forces: 23,296 cases, assault: 22,058 cases, accidental poisoning: 10,804 cases, thermal causes: 5,853 cases, drowning and submersion: 664 cases, other: 58,735 cases. For all causes except falls and intentional self-harm, the number of cases for males exceeds the number of cases for females.

Deaths due to injury

In 2017–18, injury was recorded as a cause of more than 13,000 deaths—8.1% of deaths in that year:

  • The rate of injury deaths was 53 per 100,000 population.
  • Just over 45% of all deaths at ages 1–44 were due to injury.
  • Unintentional falls were the most common cause of injury deaths (40% of all deaths), followed by suicide (23%) and transport crashes (11%).
  • For males, suicide and falls were the leading causes of injury death (29% of male injury deaths each).
  • For females, falls were the leading cause of injury death (56% of female injury deaths), with 97% of female deaths due to falls involving those aged 65 and over.
  • Injury death rates for males were higher than for females in every age group, especially 25–44.
  • Out of age groups 0–4, 5–14, 15–24, 25–44, 45–64 and 65 and over, injury death rates were lowest for children aged 5–14 and highest for people aged 65 and over.
  • Indigenous Australians were almost twice as likely to die from an injury than other Australians—the age-standardised injury death rate for Indigenous Australians was 86 deaths per 100,000 population, compared with 44 per 100,000 for other Australians.
  • Injury death rates rose with increasing remoteness—41 deaths per 100,000 population were recorded in Major cities, and 81 per 100,000 in Very remote areas (age-standardised rates).
  • The age-standardised rate of injury death increased with decreasing socioeconomic position—the rate for people in the lowest socioeconomic areas was 1.3 times the rate for those in the highest socioeconomic areas.

See Causes of death.
 

This horizontal bar chart shows that the number and rate of injury deaths varies by cause of injury, age group and sex. Falls: 5,156, transport crash: 1,428, suicide: 3,006, other unintentional injury: 1,664, unintentional poisoning involving pharmaceuticals: 1,242, unintentional poisoning involving other substances: 363, drowning: 208, homicide: 204, thermal causes: 98. Falls was the only cause where more females (2,863) than males (2,293) died. For all other causes except ‘other unintentional injury’, the number of males that died was at least twice that of the number of females that died, and for transport crashes and suicide was about triple.

Emergency department presentations

One in 4 (25%, or just over 2.0 million) presentations to public hospital emergency departments in 2018–19 were due to injury (AIHW 2020c). Of these:

  • more than one-quarter (26%, or 541,000) were for children aged 0–14, and a further 17% (344,000) for people aged 15–24
  • about 1 in 5 (18% or 375,000 resulted in admission to hospital).

See Hospital care.

Impact

In 2015, injuries accounted for 8.5% of the burden of disease in Australia (AIHW 2019b) and 7.0% of the long-term health conditions of the more than 4.3 million Australians living with a disability (ABS 2016). Injury is one of the top 5 contributing categories to the national burden of disease, along with cancer, cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal conditions and mental and substance use disorders (AIHW 2019b). See Burden of disease.

In 2015–16, it was estimated that injury cost the Australian health system $8.9 billion dollars (7.6% of total health expenditure) (AIHW 2019a). See Health expenditure.

In 2017–18, the average length of stay in hospital for injury cases was 3.8 days—a total of almost 1.8 million days in hospital was recorded (AIHW 2020a).

Where do I go for more information?

For more information about injury, see:

Visit Injury for more on this topic.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2016. Disability, ageing and carers, Australia: summary of findings 2015, data cubes. ABS cat. no. 4433.0. Canberra: ABS.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019a. Disease expenditure in Australia. Cat. no. HWE 76. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019b. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015. Cat. no. BOD 22. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2020a. National Hospital Morbidity Database. Findings based on unit record analysis. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2020b. National Mortality Database. Findings based on unit record analysis. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2020c. Emergency department care 2018–19. Canberra: AIHW.

Gabbe BJ, Simpson PM, Cameron PA, Ponsford J, Lyons RA, Collie A, et al. 2017. Long-term health status and trajectories of seriously injured patients: a population-based longitudinal study. PLoS Medicine 14(7): e1002322.

WHO (World Health Organization) 2014. Injuries and violence: the facts, 2014. Geneva: WHO.