Supplement Feature - February 2012
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Roll With the Changes

What Aquatic Facility Managers Need to Know About ADA, VGB and More

By Rick Dandes

Another mistake facility owners make is paying low wages for the lifeguard, and then asking them to do myriad other jobs. "There is nothing inherently wrong with that," Griffiths cautioned, "as long as they don't do the secondary swimming pool duties when they are supposed to be watching the water. Lifeguarding is a full-time job, and their main responsibility is patron surveillance."

It's the pool operator who should be certified to run a pool's mechanics, Griffiths insists; it's not the lifeguard's job. Operators should know about treating the water, about its chemical makeup.

When it comes to hiring, every operator should know their area's demographics, added Farhad Madani, consultant, Association of Aquatic Professionals, based in Austin, Texas. "They should know their city, and they should know where to actually find their staff."

If there is a high school swim team, Madani said, "that would be an area where they could recruit from because they already know how to swim. You can't just hire anybody off the street." In an inner-city environment, where people might not have extensive swimming skills, you need to set up a training system. And lifeguards should be required to pass a lifeguarding test.

"I wish I could wave a wand and say that in-service training is mandatory by all facilities that have lifeguards," added Fielding, of The Red Cross. "Because there is quite a range of certifications, from one year up to three years, and individuals who took a course two years ago and are still current in their certification need in-service training, whether it's CPR training, first aid training. EMS responders train all the time.

Lifeguards need to be reminded of their responsibilities because they are really guarding people's lives. They are professionals. Try to get across to them that anything can happen at any time and they need to be prepared for it.

"But we also have to educate patrons," he said, "They need to be responsible for watching their kids. Education of the patrons is important; having learn-to-swim classes, all that leads to a much safer pool environment."

Griffiths likes to warn new lifeguards about the dangers of the "drowning Ds. The first 'D'," he said, is dereliction of duty. This is when the lifeguard leaves their post to go to the restroom or to run to their car in the parking lot. Leaving the pool is the worst thing that can happen. This is your worst sin."

After that, it is distractions, he said. "We are distracted all the time just naturally, by handheld devices, for example. Lifeguards may need phones at work but phones should not be on the pool deck. Eliminate all distractions."

Then, when something goes wrong in the water, there is almost disbelief and delay. "One of the most important things I tell life guards, after avoiding dereliction and minimizing distraction is when in doubt, fish them out," Griffiths said. "Too many children die in swimming pools where the lifeguard just doesn't believe that the child is drowning. They think the child is playing or holding their breath under water. Just don't delay."

The other "D" is disguise. When water is rippled by wind or splashing kids in the water, it is hard to see people on the bottom because you are looking through what looks like an obscuring shower door or a bathroom window. The water can disguise victims. So the lifeguard should be aware of seeing anything over or under the surface.

It is a progression, he said, but every second could be critical.

Lifeguards need to be alert at all times. They need to realize that when they are sitting on that chair, they are responsible for everyone's lives.