Rise in fatal child drownings prompts seasonal safety warning

23 December 2019 

Children’s Health Queensland is urging families to be vigilant about water safety these school holidays to halt a concerning rise in the number of fatal drownings.

Tragically, the Queensland Children’s Hospital has seen seven fatal drownings in 2019 to date – three more than in 2018, and five more than 2017.

In total, 67 children have been treated in the hospital’s emergency department following a drowning incident since the start of the year, with 12 of these patients admitted to the paediatric intensive care unit for specialist care.

Swimming pools are the most common danger site in Queensland for childhood drownings, accounting for almost 80 per cent of emergency drowning presentations during the summer months. Baths, rivers, dams and the beach are also common locations for drowning incidents.

Ten children aged between one and 14 years died from an accidental drowning across Queensland in 2018, making it the leading cause of death in that age group. That figure also accounted for half of all childhood drowning deaths across the country last year.

Typically, more than a third of childhood drowning incidents occur during the summer months (December – February) in Queensland, prompting this timely reminder from Queensland Children’s Hospital specialists to keep kids safe during the holidays.

Queensland Children’s Hospital paediatric intensive care specialist Dr Adrian Mattke said constant adult supervision was the only way to prevent childhood drowning accidents.

“Parents often tell us that they only walked away for a moment or that they were momentarily distracted by their phones,” Dr Mattke said.

“It only takes seconds for a child to drown. Young children have small lungs and they can’t hold their breath very long. So, if they go under water, they can drown silently in a matter of seconds,” Dr Mattke said.

“Take your eyes off them briefly – to grab a towel, read a text message on your phone or check your Instagram feed – that’s when it can happen.

“A designated adult needs to be responsible for actively watching children in water at all times – it’s the only way to keep them safe.”

Dr Mattke recommended all adults learn CPR so they know what to do in the event of a drowning.

“Providing first aid, specifically CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to a drowning victim as soon as possible can significantly improve their survival chances.

“The first minutes after a drowning are very important, and CPR should commence immediately after rescuing a victim from the water. CPR should be given to any child that appears lifeless, as their heart may have stopped beating.”

In a drowning emergency, always call 000 and ask for an ambulance.


Media contact:  t: +61 7 3068 5111   e: chqnews@health.qld.gov.au

Queensland Children’s Hospital – Drowning presentations 2015-2020

Year Drowning presentations
at QCH Emergency
Drowning deaths
2015 72 9
2016 76 4
2017 78 2
2018 63 4
(YTD to 23/12/19)
67 7

Source: Queensland Children’s Hospital