The water incident database (WAID) 2012 to 2019: a systematic evaluation of the documenting of UK drownings

Samuel P. Hills, Matthew Hobbs, Michael J. Tipton, Martin J. Barwood*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background - Death by drowning is a leading cause of accidental death in the United Kingdom (UK) and worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that effective documentation of drowning is required to describe drowning frequency and to underpin effective drowning prevention intervention, thus improving the quality of data describing drowning frequency represents a key initiative. The water incident database (WAID) has been used to document UK fatal and non-fatal water-based incidents since 2009. WAID has not undergone a systematic evaluation of its data or data collection procedures to establish if the database meets the WHO requirements. The present study investigated the characteristics of UK fatal drowning incidents and audited current WAID data capture procedures.

Methods - Data for the fatal drowning cases recorded between 2012 and 2019 were reviewed. Descriptive data were generated 1) to describe fatal drownings in the UK’s WAID in this period; 2) a sub-set of drownings were audited i) for completeness of data entry and, based on source documents, ii) for quality of data entry; 3) these processes were used to make recommendations for onward revisions to WAID.

Results - A total of 5051 fatalities were recorded between 2012 and 2019. Drowning was most frequent amongst males aged 35 to 60 years (n = 1346), whilst suspected accidents and suicides accounted for 44 and 35% of fatalities. Suicide by drowning was at a peak in the most recent year of data analysed (i.e., 2019; 279 cases) highlighting an urgent need for targeted intervention. Audit part 2i) indicated that 16% of all fields were incomplete, thus indicating potential redundancy, duplication, or the need for onward review. Audit part 2ii) indicated high levels of agreement (80 ± 12%) between audited cases and the ‘true’ WAID entries.

Conclusions - This study confirms WAID as a rigorous, transparent and effective means of documenting UK drownings thereby meeting WHO requirements for data quality; yet future improvements are recommended. Such findings allow researchers and policy makers to use WAID to further investigate UK drowning with a view to improving public safety measures and drowning prevention interventions. Observations alongside several expert recommendations have informed a revised version of WAID.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1760
Number of pages12
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sept 2021


  • Immersion
  • Cold water
  • Accident
  • Suicide
  • Injury
  • Environmental risk factor


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