Prevent Drowning at Lifeguarded Pools
When people swim at a lifeguarded pool, they expect those lifeguards to recognize and respond to struggling swimmers quickly and effectively. But according to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lifeguards failed between 2000 and 2008 to prevent more than 100 drownings in the pools under their surveillance. What's more, the study only accounted for fatal drownings reported by the media, which means the actual problem is much bigger than these numbers indicate.
To do a better job of protecting the public in lifeguarded pools, it is crucial to incorporate scientific testing for the positioning of lifeguards, on top of continuing to conduct thorough and ongoing lifeguard training.
Q: Why do drownings occur in lifeguarded pools?
A: Lifeguard training in most facilities is extensive and ongoing, focusing on recognizing and responding to a patron who needs assistance within 30 seconds. When drownings occur with a lifeguard on duty, the lifeguards are often blamed. However, many facilities fail to establish surveillance zones that make it possible for lifeguards to identify potential drowning victims.
Research has shown that lifeguards generally are positioned where they are unable to identify underwater objects through more than 15 percent of their assigned surveillance zones. Why? Conventional testing, which uses manikins or silhouettes, is flawed, failing to simulate real-world conditions, including lighting and water conditions. This results in coverage zones that are too large.
Q: What can we do to create more effective surveillance zones for our lifeguards?
A: Just because your facility is in compliance with state and local codes, that does not mean your patrons are safe from possible drowning incidents. Only scientific testing at your aquatic facility can ensure your lifeguard zones are sized correctly, and your lifeguards are properly positioned.
Conducting reliable lifeguard positioning testing requires a test device that isn't necessarily lifelike in shape, but is lifelike in size. Devices that can be viewed clearly in three dimensions (length, width and height) below the water surface correlate with an unobstructed view of patrons below the water surface.
During testing, these devices can be placed along the outer edge of the surveillance zone, with some positioned below and in front of the lifeguard stand, where drowning victims have historically gone unnoticed. This step provides a 3-D reference.
Analysis then requires lifeguards to count the number of devices they can identify during various levels and types of pool activity. Unidentified devices can then be used to determine the location of blind spots in the pool. As results from individual zones are compiled, systemic blind spots become apparent, which allows you to optimize surveillance zones.
Q: What else should we know?
A: First of all, be sure to incorporate this testing into your ongoing lifeguard training. Ongoing testing will further validate your findings when conditions such as bather load or personnel change.
Also of note, this type of testing is a useful training tool for lifeguards, teaching them to scan all the way to the pool bottom and more efficiently view every level of the water. Studies have shown that even after the devices are removed, lifeguards continued to scan in a more consistent and thorough manner. Repeated use of the devices during in-service training improves lifeguard performance.
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