New Research Shows Drowning Is the Leading Cause of Death in Australian Tiny Tots

November 22, 2020 Updated: November 22, 2020

As summer draws nearer, parents are being warned that water safety is paramount, with chilling statistics revealing that the leading cause of death in children aged one is drowning.

The toddlers represented over 40 percent of all child drownings in Australia, data by Royal Life Saving Society revealed, with over half of the cases occurring in backyard swimming pools.

Royal Life Saving Society CEO Justin Scarr said for every fatal drowning in this age group, a further eight children are admitted to hospital following a non-fatal drowning. Some may sustain lifelong brain injuries.

“Drowning deaths in young children are wholly preventable,” Scarr said.

“Children who survive a drowning incident often experience lifelong health issues, which in some cases, may lead to premature death.

The society kicks off a new Keep Watch program on Nov. 19 to remind parents and carers that the best way to keep their tiny tots alive is to supervise them around water, teach water safety skills, and learn how to respond to emergencies.

Chores were a distraction in more than 4 out of 10 cases of child drownings, a 2019 study by the society in collaboration with UNSW Sydney and James Cook University found.

Checking a pot on the stove, hanging washing out to dry, or monitoring other children led to a lapse in supervision and subsequent fatality, the research showed.

The next major distractions include talking or socialising at 12 percent, electronic distractions at 9 percent, and falling asleep at 8 percent.

UNSW Medicine researcher and lecturer Amy Peden told UNSW that parents might not think they’ll be gone for long, but often they’re away for longer than they expect.

“If you’re supervising children in or near water, wait until they are out of the proximity of the water before doing your chores,” Peden said, otherwise they should designate someone as the active supervisor when they leave the area.

“Drowning can happen quickly—anything that holds enough water to cover a child’s nose, and mouth can cause a drowning,” Peden said.

“That’s why active, continuous supervision is so important, and summer is a good time to remind families of this.”