Supplement Feature - February 2010
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Serve & Protect

Aquatic Safety & Staffing

By Richard Zowie


One crucial part of aquatic safety is the staffing of lifeguards. Those who go to public swimming pools are no doubt familiar with the lifeguard who sits in the high chair scanning the water and watching for anyone who suddenly goes under water and struggles to resurface. The lifeguard then heads into the water to help.

Sometimes that's all that's needed and other times more action is required. If the person isn't breathing, the lifeguard then has to use mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and chest compressions. If all goes well, the person regains consciousness, begins breathing on their own and lives to swim another day (but hopefully without any more close calls). Others might require hospitalization.

Just like many other professions, lifeguarding evolves over time as the rules change, technology upgrades and new procedures fall into place. Currently, according to the American Lifeguard Association, there are two types of certification for lifeguards: one for both shallow and deep water and another for only shallow water. They must also be trained on cardiopulmonary resuscitation and automated external defibrillators, First Aid, oxygen supplement and blood pathogens. They also use the newest American Red Cross training aids that were released in January 2007.

Potential lifeguards also learn rescue skills, caring for head, neck or back injuries, and using a bag-valve mask resuscitator. Today's lifeguards also are trained on dealing with blood-borne pathogens, which is an OSHA requirement since it's almost inevitable that lifeguards will encounter body fluids when rescuing victims.

B.J. Fisher, director of health safety at the American Lifeguard Association, said they follow the American Red Cross guidelines when it comes to lifeguard certifications. Right now, the ALA is encouraging two things: people who can swim 50 yards continuously to become a certified lifeguard in a shallow pool (you must swim 300 yards continuously to become certified to be a deep-water lifeguard).

The ALA's also trying to recruit senior citizens back into the workforce as shallow-water lifeguards.

"We're encouraging the 'silver group' to come out of retirement as lifeguards," Fisher said. "With the shallow criteria, we can really approach this. Employers (looking for lifeguards) go for responsibility more than just physical capabilities. More pools being built now are shallow water pools only."

Fisher added that some are even renovating their pools, changing them from ones with deep ends to ones that are shallow water only. With these pools, while you won't have the drowning problems you would with deep ends, you'll still have small children that must be monitored.

When it comes to new guidelines for lifeguards, Fisher said things are slowly becoming more and more technologically advanced. They now have defibrillators available when performing CPR, something they started doing a few years ago before it became mandatory.

Gone are the days where lifeguards use mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to revive those who have quit breathing. Lifeguards now use airway masks, where they blow into a one-way valve to prevent the rescuer from receiving a transmittable disease from a victim. Fisher believes that lifeguards should take things a step further, since an airway mask doesn't prevent the rescuer from transmitting a potential illness to the victim. He sees a bag valve mask as the way to go. To use this, a rescuer squeezes the bag and administers air to the victim. The valve carries supplemental oxygen, which should be administered as soon as possible to aid in recovery.

"We're looking for codes to require the bag valve mask at pools," Fisher said. "The lifeguard is becoming more and more of a medical professional. They're being more trained to be like nurses and paramedics. They should have the tools and be able to administer advanced medical care, since they're first responder. If they don't take their job seriously, a life can be lost."

Fisher predicts that the bag valve will soon be required and the airway mask (and mouth-to-mouth, for that matter) will no longer be viable.

There have also been changes in the chest compressions to breaths ratio lifeguards must do. Fisher reports that they're looking at going from fewer breaths and more chest compressions.

"Studies are finding compressions are more necessary than breaths themselves," he said. "We may omit the breaths entirely. It's not accepted yet, but the industry is looking into that."

Other possible changes include getting away from centering the hand on the chest for compressions and now being able to use two hands instead of one on a child.

Dr. Alex Antonious, director of educational programs at NSPF, added that it's important to remember that lifeguarding also does not take a one-size-fits-all approach. Lifeguard training depends on whether the lifeguard will work at a waterpark, waterfront or with specific attractions like slides.

"How you deal with a spinal injury in a traditional swimming pool versus a water slide, for example, is very different," he explained. "Lifeguard programs must adapt to meet the needs of today as new facilities and new features at these facilities are introduced. Modern-day lifeguards are also trained in oxygen administration and in the use of automated external defibrillation. More and more facilities are beginning to make this equipment available in the pool areas."