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P3.003 Drowning across the lifespan: Identifying critical stages for intervention
  1. Alison Mahony1,
  2. Stacey Willcox-Pidgeon1,2,
  3. Justin Scarr1
  1. 1Royal Life Saving Society – Australia, Sydney, Australia
  2. 2College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia


Background Drowning deaths occur among people of all ages, however, the risk is not uniform across the lifespan. Conventional drowning prevention programs communicate risk using age bands, however, this approach may overlook critical time points through the life cycle.

Methods The Royal Life Saving National Fatal Drowning Database was used to examine drowning by single year of age from 1 July 2002 to 30 June 2019. This database includes all unintentional drowning deaths in Australian waters.

Results Drowning peaked at one year of age, with a significant spike observed following the first birthday (0 years: 1.2/100,000 vs 1 year: 4.2/100,000). Deaths decreased as children grew, before rising sharply at 15–19 years of age (15 years: 0.5/100,000 vs 19 years: 1.6/100,000). The drowning rate remained steady through adulthood, before rising again in early retirement (60 years: 1.8/100,000).

Conclusion Drowning risk changes across the lifespan, with the greatest risk observed among young children as they become increasingly mobile. A peak also occurs as teenagers reach adulthood, legal drinking age and gain greater independence. Assessing risk by single year of age allows for the design of targeted strategies, aligned to physical development stages and social changes.

Learning Outcomes Drowning prevention strategies need to be tailored to specific life stages, taking into consideration changes in mobility and independence. For example, existing broad prevention strategies for children aged 0–4 could be further tailored to highlight the importance of supervision for newly mobile for 1–2 year olds and water safety education for 3–4 year olds.

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