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Safety authority: Health conditions causing more drowning deaths

Twice as many people drown per year in Finland compared to Norway and Sweden, relative to the population.

The study showed that health-related causes have resulted in increased drowning deaths. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Health conditions increasingly cause drowning deaths in Finland, according to a fresh report by Finland’s Safety Investigation Authority (SIAF).

Despite drowning deaths being on the decline nationally, 165 people drowned in 2021. The report, based on figures from 2021, only included deaths that were likely accidental.

“Drowning is a major problem in Finland. When we looked at the figures, we found that 12,000 people have drowned in Finland over the last 50 years," said SIAF Chief Safety Investigator Kai Valonen.

Relative to the population, twice as many people drown each year (siirryt toiseen palveluun) in Finland as in neighbouring Norway and Sweden.

Men make up the majority of drowning victims

According to SIAF’s statistics, men drown far more often than women. Of all accidental drownings in 2021, 82 percent were male. Over the last half-century, 88 percent of drowning victims were men.

Regardless of gender, people tended to drown when they were alone in situations that they found familiar, the safety agency said, with a high proportion of deaths occurring less than 10 metres from shore.

Health conditions increasingly linked to drowning deaths

The typical drowning victim in Finland was an elderly man with a heart condition, the report found.

Finland's aging population may be contributing to an increase in drowning deaths related to health conditions, particularly cardiovascular diseases. “When their symptoms strike in the water, you’re in trouble,” Valonen said.

Over half of drowning victims were over 67 years old last year, with the average age being 64. Meanwhile, the number of victims under the age of 18 has decreased over the past two decades.

Long-term alcohol consumption also increased the likelihood of drowning. "In more than 40 [drowning] cases, alcohol had been consumed," Valonen noted.

Many drownings within 10m of shore

Swimming or wading in the water caused the majority, 55, of drownings last year.

A significant proportion of drownings were related to taking a sauna. Most of these accidents occurred within 10 metres of shore.

The victim was typically either taking a sauna alone or, if with others, swimming before or after other people were around, the safety authority said.

According to SIAF, victims had often not taken relevant safety precautions. Last year 33 people drowned as a result of falling from boats or other watercraft. Twenty-six of them had not been wearing life jackets.

The second most common type of drowning often involved a pier or a beach that was in poor condition or difficult to traverse. This not only caused the accident but also made it difficult for the victims to rescue themselves from the water.

The third and fourth most common types of drowning accidents involved either a boat or a jet ski, or were related to falling through ice.