Supplement Feature - May 2020
Find a printable version here

Aquatic Pros Talk Safety

Facility Audits, Staff Training, Swim Lessons & More

By Dave Ramont

DeRosa described how an experienced third party can watch lifeguards practice the facility-specific Emergency Action Plan (EAP) and can offer suggestions for improvement that lifeguards and supervisors can then consider. The EAP should spell out the responsibilities of each team member during an emergency. "Recording lifeguard EAP performance and analyzing playback can be very effective in showing team members how they actually performed as opposed to relying upon individual recollection and self-assessment."

Complacency is to be avoided. Therefore, continuing education is crucial, and DeRosa said the standard of care for lifeguard in-service training is a minimum of four hours per month of facility-specific training. "Many facilities will increase or even double this requirement to help ensure that staff are properly trained to respond to all types of emergencies at a given facility. High-fidelity, scenario-based training is critical to preparing all team members to respond during an emergency."

Swanson Pool in St. Charles, Ill., consists of a 50-meter lap pool with diving boards, lap lanes, drop slides, waterslides and a rope walk, as well as a separate activity pool. Lifeguard staff must complete and pass a 20-hour E&A training program, which includes lifeguard rescue skills, CPR/AED/First Aid training, oxygen administration training and emergency procedures. "We have staff members who are trained lifeguard instructors. The lifeguard course is a combination of online learning, classroom activities and in-water practice," said Rosie Edwards, aquatics supervisor with the St. Charles Park District, explaining that classes are conducted in the spring before the pools open, so a local high school and rec center pool are utilized.

Throughout the year, auditors from E&A conduct three unannounced visits at Swanson Pool to audit staff performance. "The audit evaluates the lifeguard staff, the supervisory staff and administrative requirements," said Edwards. "This ensures our staff are operating from top to bottom as they should be."

Lifeguard staff are also required to attend at least one in-service per week during the season, according to Edwards. "Staff participate in internal and external Vigilance Awareness Training (VAT). We're making sure that staff are remaining vigilant while on their stands. Management staff internally observe staff on the same criteria as our outside audits from Ellis."

VAT seeks to educate, train and prepare lifeguards for a submersion event using a mannequin to simulate a submerged victim. Often times this training is a surprise, conducted during regular pool hours. "We always want our staff to be at a test-ready level," explained Edwards. "This means that we need our training to be the most realistic, which is why we perform mock rescues while the pool is open."

There are a lot of considerations when determining lifeguard placement at aquatic facilities. Maria Bella is an aquatics safety consultant at a Pennsylvania-based company dealing in lifeguard training kits and products, and she said when determining proper positions for lifeguards, it's important to perform reliable testing at various times of day, under different loading (swim lessons, open swim etc.) and lighting conditions. "Whether lifeguards are on roaming patrols or stationed in tall lifeguard stands, management must make sure that lifeguards can clearly see arms and legs of patrons so that they can determine if movement is due to play or struggle.

"Conditions such as glare, turbulence and line-of-sight obstructions including patrons, play features and lane ropes can make it impossible for lifeguards to see their entire assigned surveillance zone. Positioning lifeguards where they can see over obstructions and where their view of the pool bottom isn't blocked by glare on the water surface is critical for lifeguard success and patron safety," said Bella. Research conducted by her firm demonstrated that lifeguards consistently fail to identify underwater objects throughout more than 15% of their assigned surveillance areas.

Bella pointed out that the lifelike nature of mannequins is disturbing to some patrons, causing them to adjust their swimming activities, invalidating testing. Therefore, some facility operators perform tests after-hours, with lifeguards attempting to replicate turbulence and obstructions, while other facilities forego simulations and submerge mannequins in quiescent pools. "These approaches skew testing results and often cause lifeguards to be assigned zones that are too large, or to be positioned in stands that are too low to allow adequate visibility when scanning."