Calls for extra policing to avoid drownings
INCREASED random drug and alcohol testing at high-risk locations, was one of the measures proposed by Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) to tackle risky behaviour by young males at beaches.
The study was the first epidemiological analysis of young male coastal drowning deaths in Australia.
Twenty five per cent of Australia’s coastal drownings are young males, aged 15 to 34.
Just days after rescue services retrieved a man from Byron Bay waters late at night, and a search operation was underway at Evans Head for a presumed missing swimmer, the new data highlighted the issue.
According to the SLSA study, young men were significantly more likely to drown while jumping or swimming/wading, at rock/cliff locations and under the influence of illicit drugs, particularly amphetamines and cannabis.
Since 2004, males (aged 15 to 34) accounted for one in four coastal drowning deaths and therefore remained a priority for coastal safety agencies.
Young males were 1.17 times more likely to drown after consuming alcohol than other adults, the study found.
The document suggested intervention strategies, such as passive safety campaigns targeting young male attitudes and behaviours to risk taking, including drinking and swimming.
It also suggested preventive, peer-led education that encouraged ownership of safe behaviours by young males and their peers, to take place at multiple points during development.
It called for increased random drug and alcohol testing at high-risk locations, especially on public holidays and long weekend, and the establishment of intensive water safety refresher courses, including rescue and survival strategies, for young adults in
secondary and tertiary education curriculum.
The study also identified safety signage, remote surveillance and active enforcement
at swimming and jumping hot spots (which could be determined by incident data and social media content) as a possible measure to be considered.
Dr Jasmin Lawes, who completed the study for SLSA, confirmed this information was pertinent to Northern NSW.
“There were 61 cases included in the study that occurred in Ballina, Byron, and Tweed local government areas, 21 of which were young males (between 15-34 years old),” she said.
“I definitely recommend developing water safety skills and awareness at a younger age to try to instil as many good decision-making skills as possible.
“The rate of drowning almost tripled at 18 years old, so continued water safety training throughout school would definitely be very beneficial.”
The scientist said activities such as nippers and lifesaving can be complemented with programs that introduce environmental challenges (e.g. Duke of Edinburgh or similar) to help young people develop survival and decision making skills.
“I think these skills are important for both boys and girls, but they would probably reduce a greater incidence of injury in boys as they tend to take more risks in general.”