Association between air temperature and unintentional drowning risk in the United Kingdom 2012–2019: a nationwide case-crossover study

Samuel P. Hills, Matthew Hobbs, Paul Brown, Mike Tipton, Martin Barwood

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Objective: Drowning is a leading cause of death. The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations (UN) emphasise the need for population-level data-driven approaches to examine risk factors to improve water safety policies. Weather conditions, have the potential to influence drowning risk behaviours as people are more likely to spend time around water and/or undertake risky activities in aquatic spaces as a behavioural thermoregulatory response (e.g., seeking coolth).

Methods: A case-crossover approach assessed associations between changes in daily maximum air temperature (data from the nearest weather station to each drowning event) and unintentional drowning risk using anonymous data from the validated UK Water Incident Database 2012–2019 (1945 unintentional deaths, 82% male). Control days were selected using a unidirectional time-stratified approach, whereby seven and 14 days before the hazard day were used as the controls.

Results: Mean maximum air temperature on case and control days was 15.36 °C and 14.80 °C, respectively. A 1 °C increase in air temperature was associated with a 7.2% increase in unintentional drowning risk. This relationship existed for males only. Drowning risk was elevated on days where air temperature reached 15–19.9 °C (Odds Ratio; OR: 1.75), 20–24.9 °C (OR: 1.87), and ≥ 25 °C (OR: 4.67), compared with days <10 °C. The greatest elevations in risk appeared to be amongst males and when alcohol intoxication was suspected. Precipitation showed no significant association with unintentional drowning risk.

Conclusions: Identifying such relationships highlights the value of considering weather conditions when evaluating environmental risk factors for drowning, and may inform water safety policy and allocating resources to prevention and rescue.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107832
Number of pages6
JournalPreventive Medicine
Early online date4 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024


  • water
  • safety
  • accident
  • death
  • temperature

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