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PW 2621 A national water safety plan to reduce drowning by 50%, impacts and lessons
  1. Justin Scarr1,2,
  2. Amy E Peden3,4,
  3. Shane Daw ESM5,
  4. Jennifer Schembri-Portelli6
  1. 1Royal Life Saving Society Australia, Sydney, Australia
  2. 2Australian Water Safety Council
  3. 3Research & Policy, Royal Life Saving Society – Australia, Sydney
  4. 4Department of Public Health and Tropical Sciences, College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia
  5. 5National Coastal Risk & Safety Manager, Surf Life Saving – Australia, Sydney, Australia
  6. 6Australasian Council for the Teaching of Swimming and Water Safety, Melbourne, Australia


Background The WHO Global Report on Drowning recommends that all nations undertake ten key actions to prevent drowning, including the development of a national water safety plan. In part, this recommendation is based on an Australian case study, whereby the Australian Water Safety Council has developed and implemented four Australian Water Safety Strategies with an aim of reducing drowning by 50% by 2020.

Objective To examine the impact of national plans on the following objectives: increasing focus on drowning prevention, alignment of government and organisational actions, and reducing the drowning rate in Australia.

Methods Fatal drowning data was extracted from the Royal Life Saving National Fatal Drowning Database. Baseline three year averages (2004–2007 and 2014–2017) for both incidence and drowning numbers were compared. A review of key actions in support of the Australian 2016–2020 Strategy was conducted by peak agencies.

Findings Drowning incidence ranged from decreases of 46% to just 2% across all age groups and locations. Changes in drowning numbers were less pronounced, and included some small increases. These increases may be attributed to factors including; population growth, an ageing population, increased migration, tourism and international students. Insights include the importance of; comprehensive data, organisational alignment, and focus, and the tension between; consultation versus action and prioritisation versus inclusion may provide valuable insights for those developing water safety plans.

Conclusion The AWSS has provided many benefits including increased focus and alignment of effort by members, governments and other parties. The establishment of targets, specifically reducing drowning by 50% by 2020, cemented this agenda, but caution is advised that targets be achievable, measurable and realistic, or clearly communicated as an aspiration.

Policy implications When based on best available evidence, consultation and clear targets National water safety plans can be powerful advocacy and policy tools.

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