Stuff

What Will Kill You This Summer?

Make no mistake, summer wants you dead. In the interests of public safety, here's what to avoid if you want to make it through to March.

by Max Rann
Jun 30 2015, 10:27pm


Illustrations by Daisylegs

So you're back at work. You enjoyed Christmas and some sort of beach situation and thoughts of the macabre were far from your mind. But while it may be your favourite season, summer also has a savage and dark underside that we're prone to forget or at least underestimate. Basically, if you look at the stats, summer wants you dead. So in the interests of public safety, we complied some facts to help you survive through to March.

People

You might have noticed this but alcohol consumption peaked in December with sales around 80 percent higher than in June. Every year this has an immediate flow on effect starting with car accidents. Christmas sees a national average of almost 800 hundred crashes over the 12-day period, which is the most accident-prone part of the year. 2014's Christmas period saw a tragic 27 people killed across the country.

Then, when people make it to wherever they're going, they're more likely to be violent. Rates of assault soar over summer month and have been increasing by an average of six percent every year since 1995. Summer is the worst time for this with a 30 percent increase in alcohol-related violence than winter. If you're think making it past New Year's unscathed, think again. This trend peaks in January with a national monthly average of 1200 assault cases.

Within these numbers, January sees nearly a third more cases of assaults on police and domestic violence than any other month. And regardless of your gender you're most likely to be assaulted at home, where over 40 percent of cases happen. The one gender-dependent variable is how you're related to your attacker. If you're female, you're twice as likely to be assaulted by a family member than a stranger. But this trend is inverted for males.

The enviroment

Australia has lots of sun. And with any ambient temperature affecting your body's core of 37°C, you sweat. This is fine if it's not too hot and if you're in good health, but with temperatures sometimes topping 40°C the sick and old often die. As the ABC reported in January, last summer's multiple consecutive days in excess of 40°C saw paramedics treat at least 500 Victorians for heat exhaustion while 203 deaths were reported to the coroner in a single week, more than twice the average. The heat wave in 2009 was even worse, claiming an unprecedented 370 deaths in Victoria alone, although this wasn't localised. In the same week South Australian paramedics were called out to an extra 400 emergencies than the same period the previous year.

Compounding this problem is UV radiation. Professor Ian Olver is the CEO of Cancer Council Australia and says unequivocally he "wouldn't sunbathe at all." The problem, he explains, is that a lot of Australians are originally European which leaves us evolved for the wrong environment. "Essentially we have a pale skin population in an area where the UV index is high," explains Olver. "We don't have pigmented skin and are subjected to sunburn if we get over exposed."

Australia receives more solar radiation than anywhere in the world which means leading rates of skin cancer, and diagnoses levels twice higher than in the UK. If fact, two thirds of Australians will be diagnosed by the age of 70. This makes up around 80 percent of all new cancer diagnoses and of those cases, over 95 percent are linked to sun exposure. Over a million Australians consult their GP annually for skin cancer while hundreds of thousands receive treatment. And despite it being preventable, Olver says "over 2000 are dying of skin cancer in Australia each year."

On the theme of sunshine, is fire. Australian fire authorities respond to around 54,000 bushfires across the country annually. These killed more than 550 people in the 20th century and nearly 200 in the last decade, with thousands more seriously injured. And, in what is perhaps the most disturbing detail, 13 percent of fires are deliberately lit while 37 percent are deemed suspicious.

Water

With all that heat and sun you might fancy a swim — but not if you enjoy living.

"The sea here is definitely dangerous," says Amy Peden, National Research Manager at Royal Life Saving Australia. She explains that a deadly blend of heavy surf, riptides, and vast unguarded beaches means that despite lifesavers performing around 12,000 rescues and providing first aid to around 32,000 people, 266 people drowned in Australian waters between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014.

"Rips are quite deceptive," explains Peden. "They occur in the still calm part of the sea, so people swim there thinking it's safe. Often people panic, not knowing what to do when caught in a rip and get into real trouble. This often happens to international swimmers who aren't aware of the power of the sea here."

"Inland waterways are even more dangerous," she continues. "People there are less aware of the dangers and conditions are much more changeable. Also there are less restrictions on alcohol. Actually, almost 40 per cent of the deaths we've seen in inland waterways involved alcohol."

Here we've come full circle. So the message this summer could be that if you value your life, don't drink. And if you need to drink perhaps stay inside by yourself. For everyone's benefit.

Follow Max on Twitter: @RannMax