Feature Article - July 2012
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Wet Your Whistle

Improving Aquatic Safety and Aquatic Management

By Kelli Ra Anderson

Teaching New Tricks

But how do you know you are hiring a good lifeguard in the first place? Certification certainly is non-negotiable, as well as a background check, but ensuring that their skills are current can only be determined by on-site testing. "You need to ask what will they need to do in my specific facility?" Fielding suggested. "The minimum for certification is to dive seven feet, but what if my pool is 13? Make sure they can do skills for that particular facility. Test in the deepest part of the pool with a weight and have them bring it to the side."

This kind of real-world testing is indicative of the latest changes in the Red Cross's new 2012 program that is requiring lifeguards to train, not just in compartmentalized pieces, as in the past, but with real-life exercises that clock the time it takes a trainee to get in the water, swim, go down, bring up a victim, get the side, get out and do CPR for three minutes. Newer training standards now require that they can perform a rescue from start to finish.

"You want to do a complete rescue and not in pieces," Fielding said of the improved methods he advocated for in the new program. "This will hopefully raise awareness that as facility managers, we need to make sure the lifeguard can do the job they're hired to do. It won't make our jobs easier, but lifeguards will be better trained at that level of competency."

One means to help new lifeguards retain a more automatic lifesaving response from beginning to end is an acronym called STARR. The idea was developed and co-authored by Ogoreuc and Kim Tyson, a professor of kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas at Austin, and is based on research-based data from the U.S. Lifeguard Standards Coalition.

With the goal of having lifeguards use critical thinking skills to recognize trouble when they see it and to automatically know what to do when they do, the acronym helps lifeguards to remember that their job begins with staying alert on their stands and doesn't end until they have made a report of the event, should one occur.

And that last piece is critical. With new protocols and training relying more heavily on research-based data, having lifeguards submit their rescue reports will ensure that life saving methods and training will be even more effective for real-life situations. (For a copy of The Lifeguard Rescue Report go to http://water-rescue.uncc.edu.)

Plan On It

While no one wants an accident or injury to happen in a facility, the fact is that Murphy's Law should not be ignored, but prepared for. "I would have to say that the most overlooked safety issue is the implementation of an emergency action plan (EAP)," said Sue Nelson, USA swimming aquatic program specialist. "It has been reported by swim teams and fitness instructors that they were not aware of the action and how they were to be involved should something happen."

To that end, Nelson advises that all aquatic users be included and informed to become part of the development of an EAP so that no matter the instructor, lifeguard or staff person, all are equipped to handle an emergency situation. Even small details, like ensuring that 911 information is posted by the phone (such as the facility address), will greatly facilitate emergency responders, and can prevent a needless tragedy.

And while certified lifeguards and an EAP will reduce a lot of the guesswork and panic associated with an emergency, it is up to the aquatic manager to ensure that everyone's skills get sharp and stay that way.

"Continuous training is critical for lifeguards so you need to have drills and throw simulated incidents at them so that it's not a matter of thinking, but an automatic response," said Gerald Dworkin, consultant for aquatic safety and water rescue with Lifesaving Resources Inc. and member of the executive board of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (www.ndpa.org). "In my opinion, the lifeguards need on a daily basis to be held accountable for physical standards and weekly training drills. It is up to the facility manager or operator to make sure that that training is available either from themselves, or from a consultant or in networking with another facility."

Often consulting and evaluating cases where lifeguards were present but failed to prevent an accident or drowning, Dworkin knows of what he speaks, citing a recent drowning case in Michigan where the lifeguard failed to recognize and manage an incident that left a child underwater for almost 20 minutes.