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Feature Article - January 2018
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Water Wise

Aquatic Safety Strategies Help Prevent Drowning

By Dave Ramont

The Right Stuff

What about other products related to water safety—lifeguard chairs, rescue poles and hooks, tow lines and throw ropes, first-aid kits and first responder bags? How critical are these items when facility managers are shopping for products? "There are things that are important and can make a difference, but mostly it's the staff that matters," said Sandy Kellogg, aquatic director for the Mount Vernon Recreation Center in Fairfax County, Va. She's also an instructor of lifeguards, water safety, and Aquatic Facility Operators (AFO), and has spoken at conferences for both national aquatics and parks associations.

Kellogg feels that products are only as effective as the people using them, and agrees that signage is important to inform people, but most effective when staff utilizes the signs to explain rules. And she points out that the best first aid equipment won't help a patron, and can even cause harm, when used incorrectly.

"The most important equipment needed in my opinion is correct training equipment," she said. "When lifeguards train, practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent."

Kellogg explained that training on a faulty AED (automated external defibrillator), or one that's different from what the facility uses, doesn't train staff to act in an actual emergency using the real equipment. "Decent mannequins that mimic the force necessary for compressions on an actual person will train proper depth and rate far better than cheaper models," she added. Mannequins come in infant, adolescent and adult versions.

In-service is the best safety tool, according to Kellogg—constant re-training and skill checks of staff. "Several certifying agencies, like NASCO and Ellis & Associates, mandate regular, documented in-service. The Red Cross recommends it, and the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) does as well," she said.

She believes in constantly reinforcing what the lifeguard's role is, so that they believe that every minute they're on duty they're responsible for lives in the water, and pool operators remember that, while it may be tempting to take shortcuts with chemistry, the health and safety of everyone around is at stake. "Staff that has not had regular in-service is also not prepared for an emergency, and any incident will have a profound effect if they're not well-trained," she added.

When it comes to training, Kellogg sees a couple different approaches, with larger entities often running their own classes or offering community classes that they can pull from. Her agency runs about 12 classes per year to certify Ellis & Associates lifeguards, which are not open to the public, but are filled with their own new hires. "Smaller agencies rely on community classes, and typically I see them using more Red Cross programs. The larger training programs mandate in-service, smaller organizations may have more difficulty accepting the financial obligation of staff training."

The American Red Cross provides lessons and training through parks and rec facilities, colleges and universities, YMCAs, Jewish Community Centers, etc. "They go through our certification system to be able to offer these courses themselves, so they become Red Cross partners," Harvey said. "The classes overwhelmingly are taught by them, but using the Red Cross curriculum, so they are teaching our program."

Instructors are trained by Red Cross instructor trainers, and they're authorized to continue education within their organization and also offer that to the public. "The same thing happens with our lifeguarding courses and water safety instructor courses," Harvey said. "We do have a very clear system of incoming instructors and instructor trainers and instructor trainer educators so that there's a consistent and standardized approach to all of the Red Cross programs that happen across the country and military installations overseas."

The Red Cross has other offerings for facilities as well, including a lifeguard management course, which Harvey feels is a strong way to educate those coming up the career ladder, for instance going from a lifeguard to a manager. The online course offers guidance and instruction about hiring, facility safety, risk management, having in-service training plans, etc.

There's also a Red Cross Aquatic Examiner service, which allows for a third-party objective review of a facility's lifeguarding operations. "We'll do a walk-through with the management team to help provide a second check, to ensure they've got everything they need," Harvey said. This includes equipment and emergency action plans. There are also unannounced visits to observe lifeguards in action, and certain lifeguards might be designated to perform skill tests right then and there.

Like Kellogg, Harvey strongly believes a facility should have a robust in-service training program, which includes the practice of emergency action plans. This would include all staff expected to respond in an emergency, from calling 911 to meeting EMS and knowing which gates to use, to crowd control, etc.

ASRG also conducts safety and lifeguard audits. Griffiths explained that they gather as much information as possible to learn about a venue's policies, practices and patron base, because while management knows their facility better than anyone, it sometimes takes an outsider to identify areas in which improvements can be made. "Sometimes management already knows an issue that needs to be improved, and outside experts can corroborate whether attention is needed in that area," Griffiths added.

Audits should be innovative to be as unexpected as possible to help train lifeguards more realistically, according to Griffiths, who added that in addition to rescue and resuscitation training, surveillance training addressing physical and mental barriers is also important. "Improved belief in efficacy to perform a rescue, strategies to take quick action, and practice spotting the unexpected can help reduce the chance of the need for resuscitation."

Looking for red flags should be enlisted in training, such as children behaving hesitantly around water. "We strongly suggest the 5/30 Model of Aquatic Accountability, where lifeguards do the Five Minute Scanning strategy and someone in management walks the pool deck every 30 minutes. The more the lifeguards see their supervisors, the more alert they tend to be," Griffiths said.