Feature Article - April 2006
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Safe Swimming

Managing risk at aquatic facilities

By Kyle Ryan

Proactive vs. reactive

Ebro sees something troubling in part of the lifeguard-training process. It's a matter of focus: Lifeguards have gone from proactive (anticipating and preventing incidents from happening) to reactive (acting when something occurs). When he made an instructional film in the '70s for the Red Cross called Preventative Lifeguarding, he stressed the importance of being proactive.

"It goes through a whole sequence that portrays the lifeguard as someone that is trained not to just wait until something happens but anticipate things that happen," Ebro says. "Go out there and prevent it in the first place."

To keep lifeguards attentive, most experts recommend rotating their position frequently. Griffiths' Five Minute Scanning Strategy aims to keep them alert by changing their mental process every five minutes. Even moving to a different position around the aquatic area will help. Sitting in one place essentially in one position for extended periods of time only encourages distraction.

Lifeguard alternatives

Even though a well-trained and attentive lifeguard is the best prevention against accidents, some places simply lack the funds or resources to have one. In these cases, lifeguard substitutes in the form of "water watchers" or attendants can help.

"If you're not going to [have lifeguards], next is to have monitors who may not be lifeguards but have training in water safety, first aid, CPR, drowning recognition," Osinski says. "Now maybe it's step down from lifeguards, but the water watcher is better than nobody."

Even someone without that kind of training—just a warm body to check on the situation and call for help when necessary—can work. Osinski suggests a person who makes regular visits at 10- to 15-minute increments. It won't save a life or prevent a drowning necessarily, but it can ensure a certain amount of oversight.

"Ultimately drownings and the changes in these kinds of things that occur in not-guarded pools are simply because nobody was there to enforce a rule, either a drinking rule or a horseplay rule or a child-with-parent rule," Ebro says. "In fact, the same person that hands out towels can be made responsible for simply sitting out there."