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PW 1922 An overview of fatal, unintentional drowning in publicly accessible swimming pools in australia
  1. Alison J Mahony1,
  2. Amy E Peden1,2,
  3. Craig Roberts1
  1. 1Royal Life Saving Society – Australia, Sydney, NSW, Australia
  2. 2College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD, Australia


Background Global tourism has experienced continued growth over the past six decades, with international arrivals increasing from 25 million in 1950, to 1,235 million in 2016 and leisure travel accounting for over half of all arrivals. Swimming pools at hospitality establishments are popular attractions for tourists, however, there are risks. An average of 285 people drown annually in Australia, with swimming pools the fourth leading location for drowning. Extensive research has been conducted regarding drowning in home pools, however, publically accessible pools have not received the same attention.

Objective To gain a greater understanding of drowning deaths at publically accessible pools, including the circumstances and relevant risk factors.

Methods All unintentional drowning deaths in publically accessible pools (e.g. hotels, motels, resorts, retirement villages, apartment complexes), which occurred from 1-July-2005 to 30-June-2015 were included. Information was collected from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS) and media reports.

Findings 42 drowning deaths occurred in publically accessible pools during the study period. Males accounted for 79% of deaths, with 25–34 years the leading age group (19%). Deaths peaked in summer (45%), on Sundays (21%) and during the afternoon (38%). Risk factors included pre-existing medical conditions (69%), alcohol consumption (21%) and drug use (41%). Those who drowned were commonly observed by a bystander but retrieved by hospitality staff. People of all skill levels drowned, including those described as competent and strong swimmers.

Conclusions Swimming pools at hospitality establishments are not staffed by lifeguards, creating an increased risk for visitors. In addition to a lack of supervision, risk factors for drowning include pre-existing medical conditions, alcohol consumption and drug use.

Policy implications As tourism operators worldwide continue to expand their services and operations, precautions will need to be undertaken in order to provide visitors with a safe and enjoyable experience.

Acknowledgement This research is supported by Royal Life Saving Society – Australia. The drowning prevention research of Royal Life Saving Society – Australia is supported by the Australian Government.

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