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.

In 2019–20, injuries from exposure to forces of nature caused:

900 hospitalisations

3.5 per 100,000 population

 55 deaths

0.2 per 100,000 population

This represents 0.2% of injury hospitalisations and 0.4% of injury deaths. Older people were at higher risk.

This report summarises data on unintentional exposures. 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 2019–20, two-thirds of hospitalisations due to forces of nature (67%) were caused by exposure to excessive natural heat (Table 1).

Table 1: Causes of hospitalisation due to forces of nature, 2019–20

Cause

Number

%

Rate
(per 100,000)

Exposure to excessive natural heat (X30)

597

67

2.3

Exposure to sunlight (X32)

112

13

0.4

Exposure to excessive natural cold (X31)

72

8

0.3

Other (X33–39)

114

13

0.4

Total

895

100

3.5

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, half (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.

Seasonality and COVID-19

Hospital admissions from exposure to forces of nature exhibit a strong seasonal pattern, typically peaking in summer.

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 coincided with a marked drop in overall injury hospitalisations. For injuries due to exposure to forces of nature, the restrictions appear to have accelerated the decline in hospitalisations from the 2019–20 summer peak into autumn, resulting in 46% fewer from March to May than in the 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.

Figure 1: Hospitalisations due to forces of nature, 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.

Variation by age and sex

Rates of injury hospitalisation from exposure to forces of nature are higher for males and older people (Figure 2). In 2019–20:

  • 65% of hospitalisations were for males
  • 36 deaths were for males and 19 were for females
  • the age-standardised rates of hospitalisation were 4.4 cases per 100,000 males, and 2.1 per 100,000 females
  • older people aged 65+ had the highest rates of hospitalised injury and death.

Figure 2: Injury hospitalisations and deaths due to forces of nature, 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.

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. 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 injuries due to exposure to forces of nature was less than the average for all hospitalised injuries in 2019–20. The percentages of cases involving a stay in ICU or continuous ventilatory support were both 1.6 times as high as the average for all injuries (Table 3).

Table 3: Severity of hospitalised injuries, 2019–20

 

Exposure to forces of nature

All injuries

Average number of days in hospital

3.7

4.5

% of cases with time in an ICU

3.7

2.4

% of cases involving ventilator

2.2

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 A12–13.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

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

  • there were 54 injury hospitalisations (Table 4) and less than 5 deaths due to exposure to forces of nature
  • males were more than twice as likely as females to be hospitalised.
Table 4: Number and rate of hospitalisations due to forces of nature, by sex, Indigenous Australians, 2019–20

 

Males

Females

Persons

Number

37

17

54

Rate (per 100,000)

8.7

4.0

6.3

Note: Rates are crude per 100,000 population.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians

In 2019–20, Indigenous Australians, compared with non-Indigenous Australians, were 2.4 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, 2019–20

 

Hospitalisations

(per 100,000)

Indigenous Australians

7.3

Non-Indigenous Australians

3.1

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 2019–20, people living in Very remote areas were the most likely to be hospitalised due to forces of nature (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 and sex, 2019–20

 

Hospitalisations (per 100,000)

Major cities

2.6

Inner regional

3.6

Outer regional

5.1

Remote

10.3

Very remote

15.2

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

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Figure 3: Exposure to forces of nature injury hospitalisations by remoteness and sex, 2019–20

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.

Visualisation not available for printing

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

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