International travelers and unintentional fatal drowning in Australia—a 10 year review 2002–12

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Introduction. Drowning deaths of travelers are commonly reported in the media, creating a perception that they are at a higher risk of drowning than residents. This may be true, due in part to unfamiliarity with the risks posed by the hazard, however there is limited information about drowning deaths of travelers in Australia. This study aims to identify the incidence of drowning among international travelers in Australia and examine the risk factors to inform prevention strategies.

Methods. Data on unintentional fatal drowning in Australian waterways of victims with a residential postcode from outside Australia were extracted from the Royal Life Saving Society—Australia National Fatal Drowning Database.

Results. Between 1 July 2002 and 30 June 2012 drowning deaths among people known to be international travelers accounted for 4.3% (N = 123) of the 2870 drowning deaths reported in Australian waterways. Key locations for drowning deaths included beaches (39.0%), ocean/harbour (22.0%) and swimming pools (12.2%). Leading activities prior to drowning included swimming (52.0%), diving (17.9%) and watercraft incidents (13.0%).

Discussion. International travelers pose a unique challenge from a drowning prevention perspective. The ability to exchange information on water safety is complicated due to potential language barriers, possible differences in swimming ability, different attitudes to safety in the traveler’s home country and culture, a lack of opportunities to discuss safety, a relaxed attitude to safety which may result in an increase in risk taking behaviour and alcohol consumption.

Conclusion. Prevention is vital both to reduce loss of life in the aquatic environment and promote Australia as a safe and enjoyable holiday destination for international travelers.

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