Currently I am managing a single guard pool (always single guard except for rentals, and I was just given permission to increase if the pool attendance stats show there are specific times we go over the state minimum for one lifeguard that I can bring an extra guard in during those shifts).
I am highly uncomfortable with the "single guard" environment, and several of my lifeguards have expressed concern as well.
I am looking for some concrete evidence of the liability involved with single guard pools, and any other suggestions that I can bring to the people above me to help me convince them that it is worth spending twice as much on lifeguard payroll to have 2+ guards on duty at all times.
I am also open minded, if anyone has reasons why only having 1 guard on duty is ok - I just cannot personally think of any reasons other than cost.
Without knowing what your state's requirements for allowing number of guards is I can't be specific. My argument is that in any given serious drowing event, especially a spinal injury, the minimum number of responders required effect an appropriate rescue and initiate care is 2. So unless your facility requires that there be a supervisor in the building that is also a certified Lifeguard who can react if called upon you are exposing yourselves to possible liability. Lifeguards have a duty to act and are required to provide a level of care that clearly includes safe extraction from the water which is impossible to do with an unconscious victim with only one Lifeguard.
Our state requirement is 1 guard per 25 patrons, we typically have under 10 unless it is swim team practice or rentals (and in these cases we typically have a lifeguard certified coach or a second lifeguard).
This has bothered me about the rescues that are supposed to have 2 lifeguards, and it has also been the main concern my lifeguarding staff has brought to me. "What if we have to backboard and you (meaning me) aren't here?"
Of course, then one has to think about even the few seconds it takes to make a rescue and potentially nobody could be watching the pool.
This is new territory for me, because everywhere I have worked in the past there has always been 1-2 more lifeguards than were needed to be in the chair at a time (so if the pool was expected to have 40 people in it, there would be 2 lifeguards in the chair and one "down" guard, performing roations of 15 or 20 minutes). This pool is much smaller and less utilized (by public/general swim) than anywhere I have worked in the past though. I can see from the financial standpoint why people grumble at the idea of 2 lifeguards on duty at once when an hour could go by and only 3-4 people might be in the pool..I just think that is is worth the money to have that extra coverage; but, I am not quite sure how to prove it.
Your situation definitely has risk management implications. American jurisprudence recognizes the legal doctrine of “foreseeability” – if an outcome is foreseeable but you do nothing to prevent it, you may be liable.
For example, is a drowning foreseeable in a swimming pool full of people? If the answer is yes, you must take affirmative actions to mitigate this risk by assigning lifeguards or posting appropriate signage.
Is it foreseeable that a neck and back injury may occur at your pool? If yes, can one lifeguard handle this foreseeable outcome? No? What have you done to mitigate this risk?
If an injury occurs and it is not properly handled due to the newly adopted one-lifeguard standard of practice, the plaintiff may sustain an award on grounds that past practice required two or more lifeguards, a practice no longer enforced.
My experience has been that when one lifeguard is assigned, there is always trained support staff (cashier, locker attendant, teacher, coach, or volunteer) available to assist with backup.
What does your EAP look like for the single guard?
They are supposed to notify (whistle/yell) someone whenever they enter the water; idealy a lifeguard (myself, or a swim coach). If a second lifeguard is not present they are to notify a patron or facility supervisor - they can use the same whistle/yell method, or they have a phone and radio they can use to contact a supervisor. If a patron is available they are supposed to have the patron clear the pool and get the supervisor (depending on the rescue). I stress to them the importance of calling for back up (especially if there is only one person in the pool) for any illness/injury/rescue that requires an additional rescuer (for example: backboarding). They are in-serviced on backboarding and told that they need to be prepared to talk someone through assisting them with it.
My 2 greatest concerns are having people who are not certified helping with removal/backboarding, and I am concerned that a lifeguard could forget to activate the EAP and end up alone in the water with a victim and nobody else aware of the situation.
Then of course, it seems like a liability to me just on the account that the ARC lifeguard program (I'm not familiar with others, however, we have several guards certified through other organizations) always refers to have 2+ guards for rescues. Also, as far as I can tell "industry standard" is 2+ guards - however, I am not quite sure how to prove that. I am also working in a new state; so I am not sure if the "industry standards" vary based on location (now that I type this I think maybe I can try and do a survey). Another thing is that quite a few of my lifeguards have expressed concern over the 1 guard policy, I am thinking of giving them a survey of various things regarding aquatics; so I wonder if having their concern in writing would help.
I've also beeen considering hiring a head lifeguard/aquatic assistant (or maybe 2) to work odd hours (nights/weekends) - I would have administrative work and pool operator work for them, but, they would also be available to monitor the lifeguard(s) on duty and pitch in for a rescue... I would rather have 2+ guards in a rotation at all times, but, I wonder if just having a second guard in the building at all times would help...