Injuries caused by exposure to forces of nature are those which occur when environmental conditions become dangerous. This includes exposure to too much natural heat or sunlight, natural disasters, and lightning strikes.

Burns injuries due to bushfires are not included, they fall under Thermal causes.

The impact of natural events on chronic respiratory conditions such as thunderstorm asthma are explored in a separate report.

Injuries from exposure to forces of nature caused:

760 hospitalisations in 2020–21

3.0 per 100,000 population

 55 deaths in 2019–20

0.2 per 100,000 population

This represents 0.1% of injury hospitalisations and 0.4% of injury deaths. Older people were at higher risk.

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

Exposure to forces of nature covers ICD external cause codes X30–39. Exposure to excessive natural heat is the most common cause of hospitalised injury in this group. Exposure to excessive natural cold is the most common cause of death.

Causes of hospitalisation

In 2020–21, 62% of hospitalisations due to forces of nature were caused by exposure to excessive natural heat (Table 1).  

Table 1: Causes of hospitalisation due to forces of nature, 2020–21

Cause

Hospitalisations

%

Rate (per 100,000)

Exposure to excessive natural heat (X30)

468

62

1.8

Exposure to sunlight (X32)

145

19

0.6

Exposure to excessive natural cold (X31)

70

9

0.3

Other (X33–39)

75

10

0.3

Total

758

100

3.0

Notes

  1. Rates are crude per 100,000 population.
  2. Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.
  3. 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 B21–22.

Causes of death

In 2019–20, 51% of deaths due to forces of nature were caused by exposure to excessive natural cold (Table 2). 

Table 2: Causes of death due to forces of nature, 2019–20

Cause

Number

%

Rate
(per 100,000)

Exposure to excessive natural cold (X31)

28

51

0.1

Exposure to excessive natural heat (X30)

21

38

0.1

Other (X32–39)

6

11

0.0

Total

55

100

0.2

Notes

  1. Rates are crude per 100,000 population.
  2. Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.
  3. Codes in brackets refer to the ICD-10 external cause codes (WHO 2011).

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database.

For more detail, see Data tables E31–33.

Seasonal differences

Hospitalisations from exposure to forces of nature have a strong seasonal pattern, peaking in summer, which is consistent with the most common cause of hospitalisations being due to exposure to excessive natural heat.

The interactive display illustrates other seasonal differences in injury hospitalisations.

Figure 1: Seasonal differences in hospitalisations due to forces of nature, 2018–19 to 2020–21

Notes

  1. Admission counts have been standardised into two 15-day periods per month.
  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 injury hospitalisations due to forces of nature in 2020–21 was 15.8% lower than the previous year.

Over the period from 2011–12 to 2016–17 there was an average annual increase of 8.6% 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 injury deaths caused by forces of nature, the age-standardised rate for 2019–20 was 21% lower than a year earlier. The average annual decrease in rate between 2010–11 and 2019–20 was 9.6% (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Injury hospitalisations and deaths caused by forces of nature, by sex and year

2 matching line graphs on separate tabs, 1 tab for hospitalisations and 1 for deaths. The 3 lines represent the trend for males, females, and persons over 10 years. The reader can choose to display rate per 100,000 population or number.

Visualisation not available for printing

For more detail, see Data tables C1–3 and F1–4.

Age and sex differences

Rates of injury hospitalisation and death from exposure to forces of nature are higher for males and older people (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Injury hospitalisations and deaths due to forces of nature, by age group and sex

Column graph representing sex within 6 life-stage age groups. The reader can choose to display either rate per 100,000 population or number, for either hospitalisations or deaths. The default displays rate of hospitalisations for males and females and the reader can also choose to display persons.

For more detail, see Data tables A1–3 and D1–3.

Severity

There are many ways that the severity, or seriousness, of an injury can be assessed. Some of the ways to measure the severity of hospitalised injuries are:

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

The average number of days in hospital for injuries due to exposure to forces of nature was lower than the average for all hospitalised injuries in 2020–21. The percentage of cases involving a stay in ICU was lower than the average for all injuries whereas the percentage of cases involving continuous ventilatory support was higher than the average. The rate of in-hospital deaths was twice that for all injuries (Table 3).

Table 3: Severity of hospitalised injuries, 2020–21
 

Exposure to forces of nature

All injuries

Average number of days in hospital

2.1

4.4

% of cases with time in an ICU

1.6

2.2

% of cases involving continous ventilatory support

1.6

1.2

In-hospital deaths (per 1,000 cases)

10.6

5.3

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 A13–15.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

In 2020–21, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:

  • there were 44 injury hospitalisations (Table 4) and less than 5 deaths due to exposure to forces of nature
  • males were about twice as likely as females to be hospitalised.
Table 4: Hospitalisations due to forces of nature, by sex, Indigenous Australians, 2020–21

 

Males

Females

Persons

Number

29

15

44

Rate (per 100,000)

6.7

3.5

 5.1

Note: Rates are crude per 100,000 population.
Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians

In 2020–21, Indigenous Australians, compared with non-Indigenous Australians, were 2.2 times as likely to be hospitalised due to exposure to forces of nature (Table 5).

Table 5: Age-standardised rates of hospitalisation due to forces of nature, by Indigenous status, 2020–21

 

Hospitalisations (per 100,000)

Indigenous Australians

 5.8

Non-Indigenous Australians

2.6

Notes

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

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database and National Mortality Database.

For more detail, see Data tables A4–6 and D4–6.

Remoteness

In 2020–21, people living in Outer regional areas were more likely to be hospitalised due to forces of nature than those in Major cities or Inner regional areas (Table 6). Deaths are not compared here due to low numbers. 

Table 6: Age-standardised rates (per 100,000) of hospitalisation due to exposure to forces of nature, by remoteness, 2020–21
 

 Hospitalisations (per 100,000)

Major cities

             2.2

Inner regional

             2.7

Outer regional

             6.3

Remote

 n.p.

Very remote

 n.p.

Note: Rates are age-standardised per 100,000 population.
Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

People aged 65 and over living in Outer regional areas had the highest rate of injury hospitalisation due to forces of nature (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Injury hospitalisations due to forces of nature, by remoteness and sex, 2020–21

This column graph shows hospitalisation data for each of the 5 remoteness categories by 6 life-stage age groups. For each age group, the reader can choose to display rate per 100,000 population or number. The reader can also choose to display data for persons, males or females.

Visualisation not available for printing

For more detail, see Data tables A7–9 and D7–9.

For information on how the statistics were calculated by remoteness, see the technical notes.

Data details

Technical notes: how the data were calculated

Data tables: download full data tables

Glossary