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One In Four Drowning Deaths Involved People Born Outside Of Australia

New research from Royal Life Saving 'A 10 Year National Study of Overseas Born Drowning Deaths' reports that 27% of all drowning deaths over the past 10 years involved people who were born overseas. 86% were living in Australia at the time of death.

Adults accounted for 97% of drowning deaths. Poor swimming skills and the influence of alcohol were leading contributing factors in these drowning deaths.

Royal Life Saving is addressing these statistics through a range of initiatives aimed at improving swimming skills and increasing water safety awareness among culturally diverse communities.

Royal Life Saving Society – Australia Senior Research Officer and author of the report, Stacey Pidgeon says “We know that not all people come from a background where aquatic activity is the norm. Regardless if someone has migrated to Australia recently or lived here for 20 years, we urge people of all ages and backgrounds to learn essential swimming and lifesaving skills, to be aware of basic water safety rules, and know what to do in an emergency.”

The highest number of drowning deaths were of people born in China, New Zealand, England, South Korea and India. However, the populations found to have the highest risk of drowning (based on population living in Australia) were those from Taiwan, South Korea, and Ireland.

The new report from Royal Life Saving reveals that 27% of total drowning deaths over the past 10 years involved people who were born overseas. This includes recent arrivals, long-term residents, overseas tourists, international students, and those in Australia for work purposes. This figure could be higher, given the country of birth is unknown in a further 18% of cases.

The 2016 Census found that 26% of people currently living in Australia were born overseas, revealing that migrants are not over-represented in drowning statistics as previously thought.

“The drowning rates of people born overseas is comparable to rates of migration and tourism. However, the data does show that many did not have the adequate skills to cope in an emergency situation. We encourage adults to enrol themselves and their children in swimming lessons at their local aquatic facility,” says Stacey Pidgeon, Senior Research Officer at Royal Life Saving.

Most people in this study (86%) were living in Australia at the time of death, with time in country known in 60% of cases.

The highest proportion of drowning deaths were among those who had lived in Australia for at least 10 years. Two thirds (68%) were aged 55 years or over, suggesting that these people are pursuing aquatic activity later in life. However, they may have never had the chance, or the time, to learn swimming and lifesaving skills. Pre-existing medical conditions were also found to be a factor for drowning among this group.

Another key group for drowning in this study were recent arrivals - those who had lived in Australia for five years or less. Nearly half (42%) had resided in Australia under 12 months, 83% were male and 53% were aged between 18 - 34 years. Key risk factors were being under the influence of alcohol and limited swimming skills.

Emerging trends include drowning deaths of international students and those in Australia for work purposes. International students accounted for 8% of drowning deaths in this study. Over 90% were inexperienced swimmers. As Australia’s popularity as a study destination continues to increase, it is vitally important that international students are provided with swimming and lifesaving education in order to prevent future drowning deaths among this group.

Royal Life Saving is providing opportunities for adults to learn to swimming and water safety skills. Emma Huang, for example, arrived in Australia from China four years ago, afraid of the water and unable to swim. Emma recognised the importance of learning to swim, for herself and for her son, and has gained vital swimming skills, along with a newfound confidence of being in and around the water. “This class has given me more confidence in the water, so I think next time when I go to the swimming pool with my son I can help him and have more fun with him in the water,” says Emma.

Emma Huang during her learn to swim lesson

With population projections estimating a substantial growth in migration over the next 10 years, drowning prevention strategies directed to these high-risk populations are essential.

For more information on Royal Life Saving’s range of swimming and water safety programs and resources for all ages and cultural backgrounds. Please contact your State or Territory office.

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