Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Drowning and submersion, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 08 July 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Drowning and submersion. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/injury/drowning-and-submersion
Drowning and submersion. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 16 June 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/injury/drowning-and-submersion
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Drowning and submersion [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022 [cited 2022 Jul. 8]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/injury/drowning-and-submersion
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2022, Drowning and submersion, viewed 8 July 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/injury/drowning-and-submersion
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Water-based activities such as swimming and bathing are usually safe, when risks are managed. However, environmental conditions or accidents can lead to submersion injuries or death by drowning. Some submersion injuries can have long-term effects, such as when the brain goes without oxygen for too long.
In 2019–20, drowning and submersion accidents resulted in:
545 hospitalisation cases
2.1 per 100,000 population
0.9 per 100,000 population
This represents 0.1% of injury hospitalisations and 2% of injury deaths.
Swimming pools were the most common location of drowning and submersion accidents that lead to hospitalisation, while natural bodies of water were the most common location for drowning deaths. Males were 3.3 times as likely to die from drowning as females. Children aged under 5 had the highest rate of hospitalisation.
This report summarises data on accidental drowning and submersion events. Intentional events are included under Self-harm injuries and suicide. Falling overboard from a watercraft is included under Transport accidents.
Swimming pools are the most common location of drowning and submersion accidents that lead to hospital admission (Table 1).
Swimming pool (including following a fall into a pool) (W67–68)
Natural water (including following a fall into natural water) (W69–70)
Bathtub (including following a fall into a bathtub) (W65–66)
Other or unspecified (W73–74)
Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database
Natural bodies of water are the most common location of drowning and submersion accidents that lead to death (Table 2).
Other, unspecified or elsewhere classified (W73–74, T75.1)
Source: AIHW National Mortality Database
For more detail, see Data tables B3–4 and E4–5.
Hospital admissions due to drowning and submersion exhibit a strong seasonal pattern, typically peaking over the warmer summer months and declining over winter.
The 2019–20 bushfire season saw extensive fires across Australia, particularly affecting coastal towns and areas in New South Wales and Victoria (AIHW 2021). Potentially as a result of this, drowning and submersion injuries during this period were considerably lower than in previous years.
In March 2020, the first lockdowns and social distancing measures associated with COVID-19 interrupted the usual activity of many Australians. The restrictions to movement and activity appeared to accelerate the decline in injuries from the 2019-20 summer peak into autumn, resulting in 35% fewer drowning and submersion admissions from March to May than the in same period of the previous year.
See the interactive COVID-19 display for data and further discussion about the impact of COVID-19 on hospital admissions.
1. Months have been standardised to 31 days.
2. A scale up factor has been applied to June admissions to account for cases not yet separated.
Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.
The age standardised rate of hospitalisations due to drowning and submersion in 2019–20 was 13% lower than the previous year. This decrease appears at least in part to have been driven by COVID-19 related restrictions.
Over the period from 2009–10 to 2016–17 there was an average annual increase of 0.5%. There is a break in the time series for hospitalisations between 2016–17 and 2017–18 due to a change in data collection methods (see the Technical notes for details).
For drowning deaths, the age-standardised rate for 2019–20 was 15% lower than a year earlier. The average annual decrease in rate between 2010–11 and 2019–20 was 5.0% (Figure 2).
The visualisation features 2 matching line graphs on separate tabs, 1 for hospitalisations and 1 for deaths. The 3 lines represent the trend for males, females and persons from 2010–11 to 2019–20. The reader can select to display rate per 100,000 population or number.
For more detail, see Data tables C1–7 and F1–4.
Rates of hospitalisation and death due to drowning and submersion differ by age groups and sex (Figure 3). In 2019–20:
The visualisation features 2 matching column graphs on separate tabs, 1 for hospitalisations and 1 for deaths. The columns represent sex within 6 life-stage age groups. The reader can select to display either age-specific rate per 100,000 population or number. The default displays males and females and the reader can also select to display persons.
For more detail, see Data tables A1–3 and D1–3.
There are many ways that the severity, or seriousness, of an injury can be measured. Using available data, three measures of the severity of hospitalised injuries are:
The average number of days in hospital for drowning and submersion injuries was less than the average for all hospitalised injuries, but the percentage of cases that included time in the ICU, and the percentage that involved continuous ventilatory support were among the highest of all injury causes (Table 3).
Drowning and submersion
Average number of days in hospital
% of cases with time in an ICU
% of cases involving continuous ventilatory support
Note: Average number of days in hospital (length of stay) includes admissions that are transfers from 1 hospital to another or transfers from 1 admitted care type to another within the same hospital, except where care involves rehabilitation procedures.
For more detail, see data tables A12 and A13.
In 2019–20, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, there were 34 hospitalisations (Table 4) and 4 deaths due to drowning and submersion.
Source: AIHW National Hospital Mortality Database.
In 2019–20, Indigenous Australians, compared with other Australians, after adjusting for difference in population age structure, were 1.3 times as likely to be hospitalised due to a drowning and submersion injury. Readers are advised to use these data with caution due to small numbers.
Deaths data are not compared here because of the small numbers.
For more detail, see Data tables A4–A6 and D4–D8.
In 2019–20, people living in Remote areas had higher age-standardised rates of hospitalisation due to drowning and submersion than people living in Major cities (Figure 5) (Data table A9). Rates of death are not compared here due to small numbers.
The visualisation features a column graph for hospitalisations. The columns represent data for each of the 5 remoteness categories for males, females and persons. The reader can select to display age-standardised rate per 100,000 population or number.
For more detail, see Data tables A7–9 and D9–10.
For information on how statistics by remoteness are calculated, see the Technical notes.
Defining injury hospitalisations and deaths: how injuries were counted
Technical notes: how the data were calculated
Data tables: download full data tables
ACCD (Australian Consortium for Classification Development) 2019. The international statistical classification of diseases and related health problems, 10th revision, Australian modification (ICD-10-AM), 11th edn. Tabular list of diseases and alphabetic index of diseases. Adelaide: Independent Hospital Pricing Authority (IHPA), Lane Publishing.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2021. Data update: Short-term health impacts of the 2019–20 Australian bushfires. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 5 April 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/environment-and-health/data-update-health-impacts-2019-20-bushfires/contents/summary.
WHO (World Health Organization) 2011. International statistical classification of diseases and related health problems, tenth revision. Fifth edition 2016. Geneva: WHO.
The following are publications from recent years that include information on drowning and submersion. See Reports for any older publications that may exist.
The first year of COVID-19 in Australia: direct and indirect health effects
Trends in hospitalised injury, Australia, 2007–08 to 2016–17
Trends in injury deaths, Australia, 1999–00 to 2016–17
Hospitalised injury and socioeconomic influence in Australia 2015–16
Injury mortality and socioeconomic influence in Australia 2015–16
Indigenous injury deaths 2011–12 to 2015–16
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