How many times have you visited a swimming pool, water park, or beachfront and noticed the lifeguards on duty?
What about their appearance made you realize they were there protecting the guests?
Was it the shirt, the hat, the whistle, the big red tube they were carrying, or just the way they kept telling everyone to stop running? A quick list of the equipment that every lifeguard must have includes:
• A whistle for communication
• Glare-resistant sunglasses
• A hat for sun protection
• A hip-pack with gloves
• A barrier-mask to assist during first aid or breathing emergencies
• Shoes that enable a rapid response to potential dangers
• A rescue tube that has to be worn and carried a specific way.
Even shirts with an enhanced lifeguard logo assist a person in recognizing who should be contacted if assistance is needed.
From a visitor’s perspective, it is assumed lifeguards know how to use all the facility’s safety equipment. For an administrator or supervisor whose number-one priority is making sure swimmers and lifeguards go home safely, this is a full-time job.
Get It In Order
Emergency-equipment care and control begins well before a facility opens. In today’s world of stringent documentation and an expected standard of care, it is vital that an aquatic facility begin by implementing:
• Strong processes that include firm and specific checklists
• A chain of command for safety concerns
• A posted and rehearsed emergency-action plan that includes the use of each piece of safety equipment, such as backboards, ring buoys, ADA-compliant lifts, bullhorns, flares, warning signage, etc.
The emergency-action plan also should include all items in a jump or crash bag that could be used during an emergency situation. This plan includes inspecting the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and each set of shocking pads, oxygen tanks, breathing-assistance apparatus, suction devices, barrier devices such as gloves or masks, and any other relevant items.
The checklist needs to be as precise as possible. It is simply not enough to have a check box with “AED in good condition,” and then expect the employee to provide anything but a subjective “Yes.” Instead, the checklist should outline common maintenance concerns:
• “AED pads are not expired.”
• “Battery is fully charged.”
• “Case for AED is secure and free from obstruction.”
The checklist should also include a place for comments, where the inspector can share information with the administrator or supervisor. This open and thorough communication is critical from both safety and documentation standpoints.
However, creating a thorough checklist is not sufficient; the document is only effective as the person who uses it. It is imperative that administrators take the time to train all of their staff who will be utilizing the checklist as well as the procedures for reporting abnormalities.
Facility protocol for what is considered a “normal” condition, the manufacturer’s recommended care or replacement instructions, and the location of replacement materials should be included in this training, with a follow-up questionnaire outlining the understanding of the document.
Establishing a standard of systematic processes and expectations for open communication from the top of the organization reinforces to employees the importance of being thorough in inspections, and sets the precedent that safety is the key to successful facilities.
Once the facility equipment has been checked off as “good to go,” and the pools are open for business, be attentive to the staff entrusted with the safety of the patrons. Generally in aquatics, this means the lifeguards.
Since the list of safety items lifeguards are required to carry is extensive, there will be times when items are forgotten, or are not in proper working condition, or are misused. The supervisory staff must be as vigilant in watching the lifeguards as the lifeguards are in protecting the patrons.
One way to ensure a staff member goes “on-stand” with all of the appropriate materials is to have a pre-shift uniform check. One approach to accomplish this is simply to have the staff line up and show the supervisor each piece of equipment, which can then be documented on a checklist and submitted to the administrator to be recorded.
No matter how thorough this pre-shift routine is executed however, some items may be missed. One practice that can be particularly helpful in the routine is the development and use of periodic uniform or safety audits.
The latter audit can test the functionality of a well-chewed whistle, and ensure protective gloves aren’t punctured or ripped, barrier masks are intact, and rescue tubes and straps are in proper working condition. This 2-minute check can be critical in ensuring the emergency action plan can be performed as rehearsed, if needed.
How a facility performs safety audits of emergency equipment, lifeguard rescue-assistance materials, uniforms or documentation is the decision of the administration, and there is no “one right way” to implement the policies. The important things to remember are to:
• Be thorough with created checklists
• Bear in mind these emergency items aren’t meant to last forever, and will need replacing
• Ensure that everyone who is involved in an emergency knows how to use each piece of equipment.
If these procedures are handled successfully, both the staff and the valued patrons who entrust their well-being to the established safety protocols will be well-served.
Adam Blackmore is the Aquatics Manager for the city of Henderson Parks & Recreation in Nevada. He has been in the aquatics industry for eight years working in both the public and private sector. He holds current certifications as a lifeguard training instructor, CPR & First Aid instructor, Certified Pool Operator, and Aquatic Facility Operator, and is a Certified Parks and Recreation Professional. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.