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Water safety

The risk of drowning and water safety in general is almost certainly underestimated in Australia. Drowning is especially a problem for the youngest member of our community, under four years old. The Centre’s research programme includes research projects that are attempting to understand how drowning occurs for young children and to develop better ways of collecting information about water safety on beaches.

1. Coroner study in drowning involving children under six years old in NSW (funded by NSW Health)

This study involved collection of information on child drowning from the NSW Coroner. The information available for each case were coded and classified using a systematic framework. The patterns of causation were then examined. A total of 82 children aged five years or under the age of six years died as a result of accidental drowning based on this study of Coroners records in NSW over a six years period. Around 40% of these children drowned in pools, a further 20% in bathtubs, and around 15% each in dams and lakes/rivers. Overall, two-year olds were the most vulnerable age group, accounting for approximately one-third of these cases, followed by one-year-old toddlers. Males were more likely than females to be involved in drowning, accounting for around two-third of all cases. Babies less than 12 months old most commonly drowned in the bath, whereas all other age groups most often drowned in swimming pools. For one-year-old toddlers, baths were the most common location, whereas for those aged two years and older, bodies of natural water, such as dams, lakes and rivers were the second most common location. Around 60% of drowning occurred within the child’s own home, and over two-thirds occurred in suburban or metropolitan regions. Drowning in metropolitan/suburban areas occurred most commonly in pools, then baths, whereas drownings in rural areas occurred most commonly in other bodies of natural water, in particular, in dams. Further analysis looked at the specific causes for different locations of drowning, including swimming pools, bathtubs and other outdoor bodies of water (dams, lakes, rivers).

2. Feasibility trial of the Minimum Dataset for Water Safety

Ann Williamson

NSW Health

To collect comprehensive and systematic data on rescues on NSW beaches.

 Project Summary:
This project is the second phase of an initial trial of a minimum water safety dataset that employed lifeguards and lifesavers to collect water safety information on beaches. It was decided to undertake a second trial data collection using trained dedicated data collectors. It was decided to conduct the trial only at Surf beaches and during the busy summer and Easter periods and to use the trial to clarify the definitions of rescue. A total of 14 research assistants were recruited and trained for the summer data collection and six of the same research assistants worked on the Easter data collection. All data collectors participated in training sessions of two to three hours in length where the data collection methodology was explained and potential problems discussed. The result of this trial indicated that dedicated data collectors would be an effective method for collecting water safety relevant information as they were able to collect information about a range of types of incidents occurring on beaches. Analysis of best estimate data indicates that the data collectors felt able to make estimates for some variables like age group and attendance numbers. This type of information will be useful in the long term for assessing the likelihood of incidents occurring at different beach locations, under different conditions and at different times. In general, however, the variables that were shown in the first trial to be difficult for lifeguards and lifesavers to collect were also difficult for dedicated data collectors. The rescue and preventive actions definitions were usable and would be very useful additions to the Minimum Water Safety dataset. The results also demonstrated that the information collected is clearly of value for water safety. The results of this trial, combined with those of the first trial involving data collection by water safety professions, suggest that dedicated data collectors may not be cost-effective for al beaches and all times throughout the summer. A combination of collections by dedicated collectors on very busy or more dangerous beaches and collections by lifeguards/lifesavers at less busy times would be the most cost effective.

For further information contact A/Prof Ann Williamson






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