Supplement Feature - May 2020
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Aquatic Pros Talk Safety

Facility Audits, Staff Training, Swim Lessons & More

By Dave Ramont


"Drowning is Preventable!" So goes the motto of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, whose mission is to reduce the incidence of drowning and aquatic injuries. And according to NDPA Board President Melissa Sutton, many members of the organization are public aquatic facilities. "Every year, leadership from municipal pools, waterparks, military branch pools, etc., come to the National Water Safety Conference presented by NDPA to learn about programs that are making a difference in communities, impactful messages, cutting-edge technology, data, stats, legislation, best practices and innovative training to implement into their programs and educate their communities on all the layers of protection that need to be in place to keep their patrons safer around water."

NDPA recognizes that multiple strategies are necessary to prevent drowning, including supervision, physical barriers like fences and pool covers, alarms, rescue equipment, CPR knowledge, education and more. "It's imperative when educating about water safety to include all of the layers of protection as we never know which layer will save a life, until it does," said Sutton. "We know that education is the most effective way to decrease the drowning numbers. Knowledge is power."

According to Sutton, this starts with teaching preschoolers to alert adults if a friend or sibling is struggling; encouraging teenagers to learn CPR or receive lifeguard training; educating parents on making backyard swimming environments safer; and helping seniors understand the importance of having a "buddy" with them in the water in case of a medical event. "These simple steps save lives."

Shawn DeRosa has been a lifeguard and lifeguard instructor trainer, a pool operator and aquatics director. He now operates DeRosa Aquatic Consulting, an education and training company specializing in aquatic safety and risk management. One service he provides is conducting facility inspections and program audits. "Facility inspections provide a third-party assessment of facilities and equipment, and may result in recommendations for new equipment or adjustments to operations," explained DeRosa. "The purpose of a program audit is to take a holistic view of a facility and how it manages its aquatic areas, and provide recommendations to streamline operations, improve efficiencies, enhance safety and help provide insight into the standards and best practices common in the industry."

If a facility has lifeguards, DeRosa said they'll look to see if their equipment is in good working order and available in sufficient supply. For instance, "Some facilities still require lifeguards to transfer a rescue tube during rotations from the outgoing lifeguard to the incoming guard. This is an area of risk. A far better practice is to simply purchase one more rescue tube at a cost of approximately $60, thereby removing the need to transfer the rescue tube from one lifeguard to the next."

Whether it be a community pool, waterpark or resort amenity, each facility has its own unique needs, according to DeRosa, which is why a risk assessment and third-party audit is helpful. "Each facility should develop its own facility-specific emergency action plan, based in part upon type of facility, available staffing and available equipment. For example, at a community pool, lifeguards may be expected to provide first aid to injured guests. At a large waterpark, there could be a First Aid team comprised of first responders or EMTs that will assume care of an injured guest until EMS arrives and takes over."

Beaches present their own unique set of risks, and DeRosa said that each beach should also have a safety plan in place that addresses those risks particular to that beach. "Equipment needs may differ based upon a variety of factors including the type of beach (inland vs. ocean), conditions of the water (surf vs. non-surf), and peak attendance numbers (crowded vs. uncrowded). A beach with heavy surf and rip currents may have jet skis with sleds or perhaps even lines and reels, where an inland beach may use rescue boards or rescue kayaks."

Ellis & Associates (E&A) is an international aquatic safety and risk management consulting firm dedicated to the prevention and elimination of drowning. Richard Carroll is senior vice president and chief operating officer at E&A, and he said their facility audits are designed to identify potential risk exposures before they become catastrophic. "Basically, anywhere lifeguards are employed for the protection of guests, aquatic safety operational audits are an invaluable risk management tool."

In addition to facility inspections, E&A also offers Due Diligence Attraction Testing, AS™ Operational Compliance Audits and Emergency Care Training. "E&A instructors are authorized to train non-lifeguards in stand-alone CPR/AED, First Aid, bloodborne pathogens and emergency oxygen certification courses. Having additional staff trained in these skills increases the overall safety of any attraction or facility," said Carroll.

Safety initiatives should be strongly considered in a facility's planning stages, and E&A offers a design/construction plan review, which provides valuable insights on general safety, lifeguard positions, lifeguard sightlines, furniture/fixtures and equipment, operating equipment and supplies, section layout and operational safety considerations, according to Carroll. "Site Plan Reviews also identify design aspects that may reduce the number of lifeguard positions, which over a 10-year period could represent hundreds of thousands of saved labor dollars."

Of course, as Carroll points out, a major key to achieving a drowning-free environment is to set your lifeguards up for success. "This entails proper zones of protection, accountability-based training and culture, test-ready skills (through consistent in-service training) and proactive supervision. After all, if our lifeguards aren't successful, then the facility cannot be successful."

Both E&A and DeRosa's company will contract with a facility to train and certify not only lifeguards but lifeguard instructors, in case the facility wants to have an instructor trainer on staff. "Programs that bring in an outside trainer to conduct a pre-service or in-service training program for staff often find a boost in morale and a change in their standard approach to providing care," said DeRosa, explaining that it's beneficial to be challenged with a new perspective or approach. "This highlights the value of bringing in an unbiased third party to take a fresh look at lifeguard operations, including training and emergency response."