Feature Article - January 2016
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Safe in the Water

Programs, Audits Are Key to Enhancing Aquatic Safety

By Deborah L. Vence

Safety Audits

Aquatic safety audits, which are designed to help increase safety by recognizing the steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of drowning or serious injury, should really be done more often.

"But change it up whenever you can," Griffiths said. "We have moved from active victims on the surface to dummy drops on the bottom, but when the City of Phoenix courageously spent an awful lot of time and effort getting their 'victims' to perform dead man floats while breathing through hidden straws on the surface, their well-trained lifeguards failed miserably.

"So, however many audits facilities have done in the past, they should either try to do more, or better yet, do them differently," he added.

He also explained that now that lifeguard audits are close to being the norm, lifeguards begin to test for the test. In other words, if a facility only does "dummy drops" with victims on the bodies, the lifeguards will quickly learn when these unannounced drops will be coming.

"The City of Phoenix introduced human floaters on the surface breathing through straws, and the lifeguards were not very good at detecting them," Griffiths said. "So, to be effective, lifeguard audits should include various scenarios—victims on the bottom, victims on the surface and whatever else may happen in particular pools.

"Also, lifeguards just need to get wet more often, particularly in boring rectangular pools. Lifeguards who just sit all day watching the water without getting into it much expend a lot of energy overcoming resting inertia to check on a swimmer in the water," he said.

Safety audits can be very educational, with suggestions being made and simple ways to implement them.

Finally, Griffiths added that too much time is spent practicing backboarding skills that may never be used and that may not make a real difference.

"I honestly believe too many lifeguards spend too much time boarding non-breathing children that do not have neck injuries only because they spent most of their time learning backboarding procedures," he said. "Lifeguard training and auditing needs more work on the proactive prevention side; we do pretty well on the reactive rescue and resuscitation side of the training continuum."

Matt Haynes, aquatics product manager for lifeguarding and assessment services for the American Red Cross, explained that there are two kinds of safety audits—internal audits and external audits.

"Internal [you should do] at least monthly. And, external audits at [your] discretion. It depends on how long their season is," he said.

It is wise to have one audit earlier in the season and one later in the season to see if improvements have been made. For example, maybe a facility's staff wasn't fully trained early on. And then when you go back for a second audit, you will see some progression.

"Early on during an audit, you might get brand new staff or the lifeguards themselves. It might be their first real job. The professionalism might not be there yet. Trying to figure out what is acceptable and what's not," he said. "Administrators in aquatic facilities will be seasonal and first time running a facility. So sometimes there are growing pains and learning curves."

Safety audits can be very educational, with suggestions being made and simple ways to implement them.

Speaking from personal experience, Berzansky said he requires his staff to do a safety audit every day, and sometimes multiple times a day.

"We have created a facility checklist that lists every nook and cranny of the facility that we inspect," he said.

For example, the audit schedule includes the following:

  • Checklist 1 - Detailed report done two times per week: every single handle, showerhead, hose bib, light, chair, diving block, chemical controller, chemical lines, pool vacuum, etc.
  • Checklist 2 - Daily Report: checklist of "to dos" discovered in the detailed report as well as big items like doors, chemical controllers and mainly cleanliness issues.
  • Checklist 3 - Hourly reports: pool counts, chemical readings and cleanliness.

Lifeguard Training/Certification

Some of the latest praise in lifeguard training and certification involves junior lifeguard programs across the country.

"These not only get younger people involved and away from their computers and handheld devices, but they become skilled at water safety and rescue and the program becomes a feeder system for lifeguards at the facility," Griffiths said. "I also think head lifeguard programs will grow in the future, particularly with the MAHC coming into effect."

Haynes said the latest trends he sees involve blended learning, a combination of in-person training and online training for homework and assignments. "The use of the Internet is becoming very prevalent," he said.

He also referenced a safety program released by the American Red Cross in 2014. The program involves the designation of a new professional lifeguard certification for extreme shallow water and the launch of two new programs that are designed to increase safety at facilities employing lifeguards.

The new Red Cross Aquatic Attraction Lifeguarding course trains lifeguards specifically guarding attractions in extreme shallow water, defined as three feet or less. This includes winding rivers, catch pools, slide runouts, water play areas and slide dispatch.

Berzansky added that "the biggest change we have made over the past two years is training.

"Every staff member is running in-service training during every shift. This could be anything from swimming to stay in shape, rescuing fellow staff or secret victims who act out a scenario without the staff being aware," he said.

"Our checklist of skills is roughly 80 to 90 skills or scenarios, and every staff member will be faced with a scenario every shift," he added. "This keeps the staff engaged, motivated, and most importantly, ready to respond in an emergency."