Falls are Australia’s largest contributor to hospitalised injuries and a leading cause of injury deaths. In 2019–20, 42% of hospitalised injuries and 40% of injury deaths were due to falls.

Falls can happen to anyone at any location, but falls requiring hospitalisation are more common in older people and most likely to occur in the home.

Over half of fall injury hospitalisations involve a fracture.

In 2019–20, falls resulted in:

224,000 hospitalisations

876 per 100,000 population

5,300 deaths

20.9 per 100,000 population

This page summarises data on unintentional falls. Intentional injuries and deaths are included under Assault and homicide or Self-harm and suicide.

Causes of hospitalisation

In 2019–20:

  • Over half of all falls leading to hospitalisation occurred on a single-level surface (for example, by slipping or due to a collision)
  • Only 7% of falls leading to hospitalisation involved stairs or steps (Table 1).
Table 1: Causes of fall injury hospitalisations, 2019–20

Cause

Hospitalisations

%

Rate
(per 100,000)

Slipping, tripping or stumbling on same level (W01)

67,352

30

264

Other fall on same level (W18)

47,167

21

185

Fall involving furniture (including bed and chair) (W06–08)

15,333

7

60

Fall on or from stairs or steps (W10)

15,106

7

59

Fall involving ice-skates, skis, roller-skates or skateboards (W02)

6,903

3

27

Fall involving playground equipment (W09)

6,115

3

24

Fall on or from a ladder (W11)

5,991

3

24

Other fall on same level due to collision with, or pushing by, another person (W03)

3,539

2

14

Other specified types of falls (W00, W04–05, W12–17)

16,512

7

65

Unspecified fall (W19)

39,738

18

156

Total

223,756

100

877

Notes

  1. Rates are crude per 100,000 population, calculated using estimated resident population as at 31 December of the relevant year. Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.
  2. Codes in brackets refer to the ICD-10-AM (11th edition) external cause codes (ACCD 2019).

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

For more detail, see Data tables B11–12.

Causes of death

It is often not possible to determine the exact mode of falling which contributed to a death. In 2019–20, the type of fall was not specified in 87% of injury-related deaths. For deaths where the type of fall was specified, slipping or tripping on the same level was the most commonly reported cause.

Caution should be used when interpreting the data due to the large proportion of unspecified falls (Table 2).

Table 2: Causes of fall injury deaths, 2019–20

Cause

Deaths

%

Rate
(per 100,000)

Slipping, tripping or stumbling on same level (W01)

313

6

1.2

Fall involving furniture (including bed and chair) (W06–08)

114

2

0.4

Fall on or from ladder, scaffolding, building, tree, cliff or into water (W11–W16)

95

2

0.4

Fall on or from stairs or steps (W10)

76

1

0.3

Other specified types of falls (W00, W02–05, W09, W17–W18)

92

2

0.4

Unspecified fall (W19)

3,020

57

11.8

Other identified unspecified fall (X59)

1,624

30

6.4

Total

5,334

100

20.9

Notes

  1. Rates are crude per 100,000 population, calculated using estimated resident population as at 31 December of the relevant year. Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.
  2. Codes in brackets refer to the ICD-10 external cause codes (WHO 2011).

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database.

For more detail, see Data tables E16–18.

Seasonality and COVID-19

Hospital admissions for fall injuries appear to have minimal seasonal pattern, remaining almost level over the course a year.

In March 2020 the first lockdowns and social distancing measures associated with COVID-19 interrupted the usual activity of Australians. The restrictions to movement and activity coincided with a marked drop in overall injury hospitalisations. For falls, there were 14% fewer hospitalisations from March to May than in the same period of the previous year. As initial restriction eased, admissions for falls quickly returned and were close to previous levels by June (Figure 1).

See the interactive COVID-19 display for data and further discussion about the impact on hospital admissions.

Figure 1: Fall injury hospitalisations by month, 2017–18 to 2019–20

Notes

  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.

Trends over time

The age-standardised rate of hospitalisations due to falls in 2019–20 was 4.4% lower than the previous year. This decrease appears at least in part to have been driven by COVID-19 related events.

Over the period from 2009–10 to 2016–17 there was an average annual increase of 2.0% for the age-standardised rate of hospitalisations. 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 deaths due to falls, the age-standardised rate for 2019–20 was 3.0% lower than a year earlier. The average annual increase in rate between 2010–11 and 2019–20 was 0.5% (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Fall injury hospitalisations and deaths, by sex, 2010–11 to 2019–20

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 C1–6 and F1–4.

Variation by age and sex

People aged 65 and over were more likely to be hospitalised or die due to a fall compared with other life-stages.

Falls were one of the few causes of injury where females outnumbered males, both for hospitalisations and deaths.

For falls in 2019–20:

  • The very oldest are most at risk of a serious fall injury. There was a rate of 14,900 hospitaliations per 100,000 for people aged 95 and over (see Data tables A1–3 for 5-year age bands)
  • 59% of hospitalisations and 94% of deaths were for people aged 65 and over
  • 56% of hospitalisations and 52% of deaths were for females (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Fall injury hospitalisations and deaths, by age group and sex, 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.

Different age groups tend to engage in different activities, leading to a different pattern of fall types for each age group. For hospitalised falls in 2019–20:

  • Furniture was involved in 28% of cases among young children aged 0–4
  • Playing equipment was involved in 26% of cases among older children 5–14
  • Slips, trips and stumbles become responsible for a greater proportion of cases as people age (Table 3).
Table 3: Percentage of fall injury hospitalisations by cause, by age group, 2019–20

 

Age

Cause

0–4

5–14

15–24

25–44

45–64

65+

Slipping, tripping or stumbling on same level (W01)

13

14

15

23

33

35

Other fall on same level (W18)

11

13

15

15

17

25

Fall on or from stairs or steps (W10)

5

2

7

10

11

6

Fall involving furniture (including bed and chair) (W06–08)

28

5

2

3

4

7

Fall involving playground equipment (W09)

13

26

2

1

0

0

Fall involving ice-skates, skis, roller-skates or skateboards (W02)

4

13

14

8

2

0

Other fall on same level due to collision with, or pushing by, another person (W03)

1

6

13

4

1

0

Fall on or from a ladder (W11)

0

0

2

5

7

2

Other specified types of falls (W00, W04–05, W12–17)

17

14

19

18

10

3

Unspecified fall (W19)

8

7

11

14

16

22

Total

100

100

100

100

100

100

Notes

  1. Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.
  2. Codes in brackets refer to the ICD-10-AM (11th edition) external cause codes (ACCD 2019).

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

For more detail, see data tables B11–12.

Severity

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:

  • number of days in hospital
  • time in an intensive care unit (ICU)
  • time on a ventilator.

The average number of days in hospital for falls was longer than for all hospitalised injuries in 2019–20. However, the percentage of falls that required time in ICU and/or continuous ventilatory support were both lower than for all injuries (Table 4).

Table 4: Severity of hospitalised injuries due to falls, 2019–20

 

Injuries due to falls

All injuries

Average number of days in hospital

6.9

4.5

% of cases with time in intensive care

1.5

2.4

% of cases involving continuous ventilatory support

0.5

1.4

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.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

For more detail, see Data tables A12 and A13.

Nature of injuries sustained

In 2019–20, the head and neck were the body parts most often identified as the principal site of injury in fall hospitalisations (Figure 4). In part, this may reflect the inherently serious nature of head and neck injuries.

Figure 4: Fall hospitalisations by principal body part injured, 2019–20

The visualisation features an outline of a person with labels for body parts accounting for hospitalisation due to a fall. Injuries to the head and neck accounted for the most falls hospitalisations while the ankle and foot accounted for the fewest falls hospitalisations.

Note: Body part refers to the principal reason for hospitalisation. Number and percentage of injuries classified as Other, multiple and incompletely specified body regions or Injuries not described in terms of body region not shown—see Data table A11.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Fractures were the most common type of injury sustained for both males and females who were hospitalised due to a fall (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Fall injury hospitalisations, by type of injury, by sex, 2019–20

Bar graph showing type of injury sustained by category and by sex. Fracture was the most common for both males and females, followed by open wound. The reader can select to display either the crude rate per 100,000 population or the number of cases. The default display shows data for males and females, and the reader can also select to display for persons.

For more detail, see Data tables A10 and A11.

There is variation between sexes in the type of injury sustained from hospitalised falls. Fractures, dislocation and superficial injuries were more common for females than males. Soft tissue, open wound, intracranial, and internal organ or vessel of trunk injuries were more common for males than females.

There is also variation in the body part injured. Hip and lower limb injuries, and shoulder and upper limb injuries were more common for females than males. Wrist and hand injuries, and ankle and foot injuries were more common in males than females.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

In 2019–20, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:

  • there were 7,000 hospitalisations and 45 deaths due to unintentional falls (Tables 5 and 6)
  • Rates of fall hospitalisations were highest among people aged 65 and over (Figure 5).
Table 5: Number and rate of fall injury hospitalisations by sex, Indigenous Australians, 2019–20

 

Males

Females

Persons

Number

3,720

3,299

7,019

Rate (per 100,000)

872

772

822

Note: Rates are crude per 100,000 population.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Table 6: Number and rate of fall injury deaths by sex, Indigenous Australians, 2019–20

 

Males

Females

Persons

Number

21

24

45

Rate (per 100,000)

5.6

6.4

6.0

Notes:

  1. Rates are crude per 100,000 population.
  2. Deaths data only includes data for New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern Territory.

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database.

For more detail, see Data tables A4–5 and D4–5.

Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians

In 2019–20, Indigenous Australians were 1.4 times as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to be hospitalised due to a fall injury, after adjusting for differences in population age (Table 7). This trend was reversed for deaths, where non-Indigenous Australians were 1.2 times as likely to die due to a fall than Indigenous Australians, although readers are advised to use these data with caution due to low numbers (Table 8).

Table 7: Age-standardised rates (per 100,000) of fall injury hospitalisations by Indigenous status and sex, 2019–20

 

Males

Females

Persons

Indigenous Australians

1,071

997

1,036

Non-Indigenous Australians

695

793

750

Notes

  1. Rates are age-standardised to the 2001 Australian population (per 100,000).
  2. ‘Non-Indigenous Australians’ excludes cases where Indigenous status is missing or not stated.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Table 8: Age-standardised rates (per 100,000) of fall injury deaths by Indigenous status and sex, 2019–20

 

Males

Females

Persons

Indigenous Australians

12.1

13.7

13.0

Non-Indigenous Australians

15.5

15.2

15.4

Notes

  1. Rates are age-standardised to the 2001 Australian population (per 100,000).
  2. ‘Non-Indigenous Australians’ excludes cases where Indigenous status is missing or not stated.
  3. Deaths data only includes data for New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern Territory.

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database.

For more detail, see Data table A6 and D6.

The age-specific rate of falls hospitalisations was highest among the 65 and over life-stage age group for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians (Figure 6). Deaths data are not presented because of small numbers.

Figure 6: Fall injury hospitalisations by Indigenous status, by age group and sex, 2019–20

Column graph representing hospitalisation data for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 6 life-stage age groups. The reader can select to display age-specific rate per 100,000 population or number. The reader can also select to display data for persons, males or females.

For more detail, see Data tables A4–A6 and D4–D8.

Remoteness

Hospitalisations due to falls showed a slight variation from most other causes of injury when examined by remoteness of usual residency. For the majority of causes, the most remote areas had the highest rates and the least remote areas had the lowest rates. For falls, while the highest rate continues to be in the most remote areas, the lowest rate was in Inner regional areas.

In 2019–20, people living in Very remote areas were 1.4 times as likely to be hospitalised due to a fall as people living in Inner regional areas (Table 9).

The pattern of falls deaths according to remoteness of usual residence was also different to that of most other causes of injury. In 2019–20, people living in Inner regional areas had the highest rate and were 1.1 times as likely to die due to a fall than people living in Major cities (Table 10).

Table 9: Age-standardised rates (per 100,000) of fall injury hospitalisations by remoteness and sex, 2019–20

 

Males

Females

Persons

Major cities

723

778

758

Inner regional

695

726

716

Outer regional

739

773

759

Remote

867

922

895

Very remote

955

1,076

1,009

Note: Rates are age-standardised per 100,000 population.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Table 10: Age-standardised rates (per 100,000) of fall injury deaths by remoteness and sex, 2019–20

 

Males

Females

Persons

Major cities

17.3

12.8

14.8

Inner regional

18.8

15.4

16.9

Outer regional

16.9

14.9

15.9

Remote

20.6

13.8

16.8

Very remote

n.p.

n.p.

n.p.

n.p. not publishable because of small numbers, confidentiality or other concerns about the quality of the data.

Note: Rates are age-standardised per 100,000 population.

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database.

For more detail, see Data tables A9 and D9.

The highest age-specific rate of fall injury hospitalisations was among the 65 and over age group living in Major cities (Figure 7).

Deaths data are not presented here because of small numbers.

Figure 7: Fall injury hospitalisations by remoteness, by age group and sex, 2019–20

Column graph representing hospitalisation data for each of the 5 remoteness categories by 6 life-stage age groups. The reader can select to display age-specific rate per 100,000 population or number. The reader can also select to display data for persons, males or females.

For more detail, see Data tables A7–A9 and D9–10.

For information on how statistics by remoteness are calculated, see the Technical notes.

More information

Defining injury hospitalisations and deaths: how injuries were counted

Technical notes: how the data were calculated

Data tables: download full data tables

Glossary