Lifeguards, Beaches and Pools: How to Ensure Your Summer Services are Successful

By Kerry Horne

The pools are all drained, the lakes are frozen and most of us are longing for the warm, lazy days of summer. If you are a recreation director or a pool or water front supervisor, you are probably knee deep in updating your aquatic policies, rules and regulations as well as hiring lifeguards to gear up for another busy swimming season.

Guarding Against Fatalities
Summer may not last long in New England, but that doesn't change the fact that when the warm weather comes families head for the cool relief of a community pool or waterfront. For most families, their trip to the lake or pool will be uneventful. For others, a simple day of swimming can be fatal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately nine people drown per day in the United States, and one in four are children under the age of 14. It is estimated that one third to half of these drownings occur at facilities with certified lifeguards.

It is with that thought in mind that the New Hampshire Local Government Center (LGC) has developed programming targeted at preparing lifeguards for the challenging job of supervising patrons and facilities during the hot, busy summer months. In March of 2010, Dr. Tom Griffiths of the Aquatic Safety Group presented at LGC's Ask the Aquatics Expert: A Workshop for Beach, Lake and Pool Supervisors training. The workshop focused on opening up a dialog to discuss issues that aquatics supervisors and lifeguards were facing across the state.

Onsite Training and Audits
Being a lifeguard is not an easy job. In fact, it is a big responsibility-especially considering that you can become a certified lifeguard at the age of 16. Scanning skills used for prevention are the number one function of a lifeguard. When on duty, a lifeguard must be ready to respond and be alert and vigilant while constantly scanning their zone. According to Dr. Griffiths, scanning with vigilance is the most important role lifeguards undertake. Lifeguards must understand that scanning, while staying alert and focused on duty, is their number one priority.

That's why, as follow up to last March's aquatics workshop, LGC's Health and Safety Management team rolled out onsite training for members titled Lifeguard Responsibilities in May of 2010. Nine communities collectively had more than 100 lifeguards participate in Lifeguard Responsibilities leading up to last summer. The training was developed to stress that constant, vigilant supervision-the primary duty of lifeguards-can prevent accidents.

Another important piece of LGC's overall lifeguard training program is the Lifeguard Audit. As part of their Lifeguard Responsibilities training in 2010, all lifeguard participants were notified that they would be subject to an unannounced audit sometime during the summer. The audit process involves spot-checking skills taught during the Lifeguard Responsibilities training. It verifies such things as whether the lifeguard is wearing a whistle and has a rescue tube strapped on their body or in hand. The main focus of the audit is to see if the guard is alert and actively scanning their area every 10 seconds with no other personal conversation or work activity.

Each lifeguard audit last approximately 45 minutes to one hour, allowing for observation of guards at multiple stations for an extended period of time. If the lifeguard successfully meets all checklist criteria, LGC's auditor then reveals their identity to the lifeguard and discusses the review while giving the lifeguard instant praise for a job well done. If there were issues with part of the lifeguard audit, LGC's auditor leaves the area immediately for a discussion with the lifeguard's supervisor to suggest corrective action.

Positive Feedback from Community Members
During 2010, LGC's lifeguard audit program was a huge success. It provided feedback and evaluations for lifeguards while showing community residents that municipalities are providing their lifeguards with valuable training to keep them informed and vigilant. In the communities of Bow and Exeter, LGC's successful audits and resulting positive reports to town lifeguards attracted members of the public who thanked both the lifeguard and auditor for providing that service. They mentioned feeling "safe" while having their children swim at the town facilities and that the lifeguards were "professional" and "attentive." Receiving that feedback from community members went a long way toward making those lifeguards appreciate and understand that they play an important role in their towns.

We encourage more communities to take advantage of LGC's valuable training for, and audits of, lifeguards prior to the start of this year's swimming season. The services are complimentary to LGC's Property-Liability Trust members. In addition, LGC's Health and Safety Management staff are available to annually inspect municipal diving boards and offer a pool and beach facility audit program. If you are interested in any of these services for your community, please contact the LGC's Health and Safety Management Department by calling 800.852.3358 or by email.

Kerry Horne, M.Ed., is a health and safety advisor for New Hampshire Local Government Center. She previously served as director of parks and recreation in Farmington, New Hampshire for 13 years and is a past president of the New Hampshire Parks and Recreation Association. Kerry can be reached by calling 800.852.3358, ext. 126, or by email .