It’s impossible to effectively respond, when how to respond is not something you planned for.
DILIGENT SUPERVISION AND CONTINUAL TRAINING WILL SAVE LIVES!
Aquatic Directors, your leadership, your decisions, and your actions determine the behavior of your staff and the safety of your facility.
ENSURE THAT EACH AQUATIC FACILITY HAS ALL EQUIPMENT THAT NECESSARY TO SAVE A LIFE, INCLUDING AN AED! AN AED MAY POSSIBLY BE USED ON A DROWNING VICTIM; BUT, THERE ARE NUMEROUS LIVES THAT HAVE BEEN SAVED DUE TO A HEART ATTACK AT AN AQUATIC FACILITY.
The aquatic director must:
- Know and implement all current federal, state, county, and city laws.
- Annually review all codes that apply to your facility – they are constantly changing. For example, does your facility comply with the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act “VGBA”?
- Review your state’s health department and child protection service for additional codes that apply to your facility and area.
- Create and display a SwimSafe4Life Community Commitment Board.
Directors are responsible for ensuring:
- An emergency action plan (EAP) is posted poolside in clear view of all staff and patrons.
- All areas of the water are visible at all times. (Sit or stand in all lifeguard stations, with obstacles purposely placed to attempt to create a blind spot.
- Whenever possible, use high elevated lifeguard chairs. Research is proven that they are best used for almost all lifeguard station areas of responsibility.
- Lifeguards are assigned to stations matching their ability and experience.
- Lifeguards have immediate access to all emergency equipment, including an AED.
- Emergency (9-1-1) phones are highly visible, clearly marked, and accessible to all staff and patrons.
- U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices (PFDs) with instructions and are available in all sizes for pool patrons.
- Daily inspection of all equipment.
YOU WANT LIFEGUARDS NOT LIFESAVERS!
Support your team.
Know your team.
- Thoroughly interview and vet all aquatic staff applicants.
- Insist on recommendations from teachers, previous employers, and other non-family adults.
- Request all school records.
Own their training.
- Plan your staffs’ training schedule well in advance.
- Set dates and times, schedule speakers, purchase or borrow necessary equipment, etc.
- Upon hiring of an aquatic team member, give him the training schedule.
- Emphasize attendance at meetings, trainings and all in-service activities is a job requirement, and that attendance is mandatory.
DROWNING IS SILENT WITH VERY LITTLE OR NO SPLASHING!
No human being is drown proof!
As an aquatics director, you realize that there is much debate, discussion and confusion regarding water safety terminology. However, SwimSafe4Life is more concerned with the importance of getting BASIC DROWNING RISK & RECOGNITION TRAINING information into the hands of as many people as possible, most importantly aquatic personnel, than terminology.
IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY AND OBLIGATION PRIOR TO THE FIRST DAY ON DUTY, TO ENSURE THAT ALL YOUR STAFF ATTENDS A MANDATORY TRAINING SEMINAR DEVOTED SOLELY TO DROWNING RISK & RECOGNITION.
Drowning Risk & Recognition is the single most important skill your staff must possess. If any sign of a person in distress or drowning is not immediately and easily recognized by your entire staff, then your facility is not providing the safety a lifeguard represents to the public. Without this skill, you and your facility are in fact giving both your staff and all who enjoy your facility a very dangerous false sense of security! One that could lead to a serious and life-altering drowning!
As an aquatics director, you realize that there is much debate, discussion and confusion regarding water safety terminology. However, SwimSafe4Life is more concerned with the importance of getting basic drowning risk &recognition and life-saving information into the hands of as many people as possible, especially aquatics staff, than terminology.
PROVIDING DROWNING RISK & RECOGNITION TRAINING TO YOUR STAFF AT YOUR FACILITY IS YOUR FIDUCIARY DUTY TO YOUR STAFF AND ALL WHO VISIT YOUR FACILITY!
For information including current and “outdated” terminology, signs that require immediate intervention, and links to drowning videos please see the Drowning Risk & Recognition section on this site. The link is provided below. Test your staff. Who can spot the victim, and how long did it take them all to find him? The Drowning Risk & Recognition Tab on this website provides basic information. It is your responsibility to supplement information on this site with additional information.
IF IN DOUBT, GET THEM OUT!
HESITATING TO INTERVENE MAY BE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DEATH, PERMANENT BRAIN INJURY OR FULL RECOVERY. ERRING ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION IS THE ONLY ERROR YOUR STAFF SHOULD EVER MAKE IN REGARD TO DROWNING RECOGNITION AND INTERVENTION!
Because seconds count your staff must be trained to assume that if anyone exhibits even one of the signs described above, they need immediate help. They must immediately begin your facilities emergency protocol with no hesitation!
If CPR is necessary, even with adequate training and drilling, a 911 operator can be a calming and reassuring influence. Encourage your staff to call and stay on the line with a 911 operator until professional help arrives. Well mean by-standers often interfere and bark incorrect instructions, and those administering CPR need all the support and confidence available!
ANYONE RESCUED AFTER SUBMERSION IS NOT NECESSARILY OUT OF DANGER!
It is critical that anyone rescued after suspected submersion be taken immediately to an emergency room. It must be clear that is not an option.
IF IT IS SUSPECTED THAT ANYONE MAY HAVE INHALED WATER EVEN A SMALL AMOUNT, OR SUSPECTED OF DRINKING TOO MUCH WATER (PARTICULARLY YOUNG CHILDREN), EVEN IF THEY FEEL, LOOK AND ACT FINE THEY MUST BE TAKEN TO AN EMERGENCY ROOM IMMEDIATELY!
Life or death may depend on the action you take! The child or adult may appear fine at first but could die within a few hours or even a few days after the incident. Their lungs must be immediately examined in a hospital!
Create an administration system to track:
- Required certifications and expiration dates.
- Scheduled EAP drills and attendance.
- Mandatory, scheduled training and attendance.
- Mandatory, supplemental training and attendance.
- Reminders to drill and train any staff member who was not in attendance at any session.
Drill your team when pool is closed.
- Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice again.
- Use mannequins and silhouettes to simulate victim.
- Have every guard sit or stand at every post and practicing with a multitude of variables.
- All pools, resort-style pools especially, can have many blind spots and areas where a swimmer in distress in certain conditions can’t be seen by a lifeguard. Do guards know the danger spots? Do they know how to immediately make an adjustment to eliminate the blind spot?
Train and practice guard changes. There should not be a moment when a lifeguard station’s zone is not being monitored:
- The guard going on duty scans the zone while the guard going off duty moves out of position.
- The guard going off duty scans the zone while the guard going on duty gets into position.
- The guard on duty takes control of the station.
Lifeguards are not all equal and are not interchangeable.
Categorize your team.
- It is vital that you create lifeguard categories. The number of categories and the criteria for each category are specific to your facility.
- Place lifeguards in categories with consideration given to age, lifeguard experience, lifeguard experience at your facility, and other considerations specific to you and your facility. Your decisions must be based on the safety of patrons.
List every lifeguard station and create a model that depicts each station’s area of responsibility:
- Sit or stand at every post.
- Scan the assigned zone specifically looking for blind spots or impairment to line of sight.
- Have your staff create situational blind spots (e.g., If you are sitting in a low chair, can an adult even partially block a child or other patron?).
- The size of the area that will need to be scanned.
- The placement of the guard—should he/she be standing, sitting, or roving?
- The ages, numbers, and behavioral patterns of the patrons who will populate each zone.
- Special water features—sprayers, slides, diving boards.
- Activities that take place in each zone—water volleyball, swimming lessons, lap swim.
- Where the steps and drop-offs (gradual or sudden) are located.
- The depth or variations in the depth of the zone.
- Blind spots that can be created by patrons.
With a few exceptions, a high lifeguard stand is preferable to any other type of surveillance. Only a qualified safety expect should determine if there is an area at your facility where an alternative, such as a roaming guard or shorter stand, will provide superior surveillance without compromising safety.
Assign lifeguard stations to guards:
- Post your lifeguard categories, category descriptions, guards qualified for each category, and matching station categories in an area visible to the staff at all times.
- Match each lifeguard station with the lowest lifeguard category qualified for that station.
- Many new resort-style pools, in particular, have stations that are too difficult for lower guard categories to manage. The guards in this category need experience, or more experience.
- Re-evaluate each guard individually and move them up or down at your discretion—and only your discretion. No other staff should be permitted to make this critical decision.
You may find that new, permanent lifeguard stations are needed to achieve optimal safety at all times. Temporary blind spots can block a drowning victim. Seconds count to the drowning outcome of the victim, so even a temporary blind spot is not acceptable or safe!
It is through using the system above that 15- and 16-year-old guards can be part of your team and will gain invaluable experience while safely maintaining patron safety. Think about the differences, for example, a baby pool, a hot tub, a lap pool, and a resort-style pool with an irregular shape, a lazy river, diving boards, slides, permanent and situational blind spots, and permanent water features.
The above practice will help produce experienced, seasoned 18-year-old lifeguards.
The variety of situations described above require different levels of lifeguard experience.
- Let’s consider a pool with a permanent slide. With supervision, a 15- or 16-year-old guard who is just starting out could be stationed next to the slide. This guard would be instructed to wait for each child or patron to exit the slide, make sure that person surfaces, and swims safely to the side. The inexperienced guard would then signal for the next person proceed. Of course, the guard would be overseen by the aquatic supervisor who would also be stationed at the slide station. If the guard at the slide witnesses struggling, signs of distress or drowning, the supervisor on duty can immediately intervene. Invaluable experience!
- Let’s consider a beach entry area with water features and roped off for young children. A guard with experience, yet not in the top lifeguard category could be stationed at this area, provided that this is the sole area of responsibility for the station. Parents should be the first layer of safety, but in the event parents are not watching their child, the guard has the experience to survey this small roped off and age limited area. The guard and the lifeguard station must be closely monitored by the on duty supervisor who can make adjustments at his discretion as needed.
- Let’s consider a guard station that requires monitoring all ages, various depths, a sharp drop off area, steps, possible temporary blind spots, poolside diving area, in other words a station requiring an trained, experienced, alert and conscientious guard. Simply hiring an 18- year old, is NOT responsible. Experience and professionalism are far more relevant than age alone.
- A 17-year-old guard who has been lifeguard since he was 15 has more training and experience than a recently certified 18-year-old lifeguard.
- A guard who has two years of experience at your facility has more relevant experience than a guard who also has two years of lifeguard experience but is new to your facility.
- Consider all factors when making scheduling decisions.
There may be stations at your facility where young or inexperienced guards can be assigned. It is your facility and your decision.
SCHEDULE YOUR TEAM WITH ONE PRIORITY – SAFETY!
Age can’t replace experience.
A new 18-year-old lifeguard has less experience than a 17-year-old guard who has been lifeguarding since he was 15. Moreover, a guard who has worked at your particular facility for two years has more relevant experience than a guard who also has two years of lifeguard experience but is new to your facility. Consider all factors when making your decisions.
The goal of every aquatics facility and its staff should be PREVENTION of an emergency situation.
You should create all schedules. Don’t delegate this critical responsibility.
- There should NEVER be only one lifeguard on duty.
- Schedule each lifeguard shift using the above criteria. Ensure young, inexperienced lifeguards are scheduled simultaneously with lifeguards from a higher experience category. Keep in mind that specific stations at your facility may require seasoned and experienced lifeguards.
- Inexperienced guards should always be scheduled with a supervisor, not just a head guard. The supervisor must be immediately available to step in.
- Guards should be scheduled at lifeguard stations
- Quantity of guards is important. A blind spot is a blind spot. Know the visual challenges and obstacles—both permanent and situational—of your facility and adequately cover them at all times.
- Require that any changes in scheduling be approved by designated personnel and that the replacement must be chosen from a category equal to or greater than the person originally scheduled.
- Prepare for unexpected numbers of patrons. Properly staff for a sudden, unexpected increase or shift in concentration of patrons.
- Prepare for a sudden, unexpected increase or shift in concentration of high-risk populations.
- Schedule guards to be on duty for swim lessons, lap pools, swim team practices, and any time people might be in the water.
- For special events, insist that you be given the event water schedule and the ages, gender, and number of people, including counselors, who will be at your facility. Do not allow any deviations without your approval.
- Position your team to ensure line of sight coverage for all areas. If you find that your budget is not adequate to staff for patron safety, close an area or rotate closure of areas of your facility.
- Plan for the unexpected. Close a pool or a section of a pool if you are not able to ensure safety of all patrons.
- Weather is an important factor when determining the duration of rotations and breaks. Lifeguards working in hot, humid climates may need more frequent rotations.
One drowning, with the final outcome of death, brain damage or hospitalization, will cost your facility far more money than staffing for safety!
THE AQUATIC STAFF MUST BE IN CHARGE OF THE POOL AT ALL TIMES. THERE MUST BE NO EXCEPTIONS TO THIS RULE!
Support your team.
- Patrons must not be allowed to assert any control over any member of your team.
- Patrons must not be allowed to interact or distract a guard while on duty.
- Discipline of an individual or your team, if at all possible, should be done in private.
- Acknowledge good deeds.
- Treat your guards with respect.
- Treat your staff professionally.
Treat any complaints or comments professionally and take each one very seriously. Investigate, take action, be alert to patterns of behavior and take the steps necessary to protect patrons.
Require that the supervisor review the following daily checklist with the staff before going on duty each day:
- Prohibition of personal phones/devices while on duty.
- Prohibition of engaging with patrons while on duty.
- Signs of a distressed/drowning swimmer.
- Your EAP.
- CPR. Reiterate that the director made the schedule with the patrons’ safety as the priority, so there should be NO drowning-related CPR. However, CPR might be needed in a non-water-related accident, like a heart attack.
- Pool rules and the importance of enforcing them consistently.
- Whistle signals and the importance of daily practice.
- Protocol to instantly communicate with team members and supervisor.
- Protocol for changing guard stations while maintaining duty requirements.
- Procedure for when a guard must enter the pool or leave his/her position.
- Procedure for clearing the pool quickly and efficiently.
- Insistence, at guard discretion, that a child wear a PFD or move to a toddler area.
- Confirmation that an experienced, certified adult (not just 18-year-olds) lifeguard supervisor is on duty at the pool at all times.
- Enforcement of the rule that no one should EVER work alone, regardless of age, experience or any other factor. PERIOD.
Give patrons confidence that the aquatic staff at your facility prioritizes training, safety, and all their lives!
Instruct your team to create and display a SwimSafe4Life Community Commitment Board:
- Post it where it can be viewed by everyone.
- Assure your patrons that your aquatics staff all have current required certifications.
- Assure your patrons that your staff trains, drills and goes beyond what is required in your state, city or county.
- Assure your patrons that your facility complies with all codes and procedures.
DILIGENT SUPERVISION + TRAINING = LIVES PROTECTED AND SAVED!
A Closer Look
Make sure every member of the aquatics staff trains in every chair and has checked the line of sight with a multitude of obstacles (inner tubes, beach balls, water features, groups of people, adults, etc.)
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