I started a discussion about this on Twitter several days ago and got some really good feedback that I wanted to share here. Several high profile cases are in the news of drownings happening when guards were distracted with cell phones or other portable devices. What's your policy? Don't have one? See what others are doing.

Here's the Twitter conversation as a starting point:

Seems like lifeguards should NOT be allowed to have cell phones on duty. Too much
distraction, temptation to text, etc. What's your policy?

jeffhammond First warning verbal...second warning..the fun begins @Dorv RT @Dorv @aquaticsintl @jeffhammond Its fun, isn't it, Jeff?


jeffhammond @aquaticnick @aquaticsintl I have zero regrets about a handful of guards who have lost nice phones due to being drilled


Dorv @aquaticsintl Issue is with management. You've got to monitor that like you would anything else. Guard will get away with what you let them.

Dorv @aquaticsintl I actually don't understand why its a major issues. At most, they can be used while on break period. End of issue???

revcgriff @aquaticsintl We need to create a #tag for this issue. I have a feeling this will be a major issue for Aquatic professionals #guardphoneuse


revcgriff @aquaticsintl Cell phones and laptops have become such an issue at my facility that My guards are not allowed to have them in the building.


Dorv @aquaticsintl Oh, HECK no. I love it when I find out that lifeguards have cellphones in their hipacks/pockets. VAT drill time, baby!


RedwoodsGroup @aquaticsintl It only takes 10 seconds for a child to (silently) slip under water. How long does it take to send a text? No phones on duty!


aquaticnick @aquaticsintl my Guards aren't even allowed to use their phones while clocked in. If I caught them on stand the phone'd probably get wet!

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As a Regional Pool Manager for 25 Aquatic Facilities in 3 states, This is a topic that I show no love for. What do I do? Well, Ill give you a hint...The Employee Handbook clearly states that they are not responsible for lost or damaged personal property; guess phones need to be waterproof...

I walk into a club, I see a guard texting...I ask them to come over to the pool edge...they unknowingly come to the pool edge, WITH PHONE IN HAND (Happens EVERY time!), and they immediately get the "Meet Mr. Pool" Treatment...

Its not a perfect solution, but its an EFFECTIVE one...Havent bounced a guard into a pool in 6 months!!!
While this concept may prove to be effective, a few things about it:
1. My immediate perception is of a single guard facility, a flat land pool. If there is one guard who is currently the only person responsible for the patrons in the water, it may not be the best approach to deliberatly break thier scanning and attentivness to their zone of protection.

2. The majority of the general public does not understand the idea that lifeguards are not just lazy teenagers, working on a tan for the summer. Guards must struggle to achieve that professional rescuer status in they eyes of their swimmers. Looking the part and ACTING the part are essential if you want to be viewed as the part.

3. I would be very cautious about physically touching staff in a non-training situation. There are too many wrong directions it could take. Especially with opposite sex and/or minor employees.
We have had trouble with this also - not just lifeguards but swim instructors that end up in the pool office between lessons checking their phones rather than talking to parents and getting ready for their next class. Policy is that phones are to be turned off when they clock in and not turned on again until they are off the clock. Do they try to sneak around this? YES. They thought they were really tricky when they stuck their phones in their swimsuit when they went to use the bathrooms - like our managers weren't aware???

I am not sure that pushing an employee into the pool is a tactic I would want to use but would like to hear from others...
Technology. What a wonderful thing! Right? It's new and we didn't know what to make of it. It's exploded in our faces!

Point #1 Our Everyday Lives - Look outside our Waterworld...we have all noticed this. Texting while driving, texting while walking, texting on a device whose keys are 6 times smaller than computer keys. If your really good at typing at the computer you memorize the keys without looking up and the computer can also sense the correct word for the sentence. Same with texting. And you can do it really well underneath clothing or the rescue tube!!! My point is places like California have outlawed talking or texting on a cell phone and a fine is given if caught. In Florida, there is no such thing. Just wait at a stop light and watch people turn for those few seconds, and count how many people are talking on their cell phones? Ridiculous. There are too many cases of people getting into serious car accidents that lead to serious injuries or even death. No, we can't compare a 2 ton vehicle to the pool. But, I've caught several lifeguards on stand, as the downguard, or walking into work while clocked in. Technology run amuck. We can't afford a drowning...it will hit you like a Mack truck!

Point #2 Best intentions -Even within the organization, depending on the managers/directors the use of cell phones are convoluted. Believe me, I tried it with only my Head Lifeguards and I failed miserably. I thought it would only be for business purposes, like contacting someone to cover a shift. No, those chosen staff were exploiting my good graces and non-lead staff resented them and me. It ruined the whole customer service aspect of the job too. How would you and I feel if we came up to the counter at a famous or ritzy hotel and the guest service counter were full of people texting and not attending to your needs? First impression thrown out the window. That's how I felt almost everytime I stepped onto the pool deck. No regard of taking care of the guest.

Point #3 Unite! - All of us and I mean all of us have tip toed around this issue for a couple of years now. It's time to take a stand. We have been inundated with what is below the water - VGB. We are not addressing what is on top of the water. Cell phones and texting. It is a disease or a plague and nothing seems to stop it. There is no concerntrated effort to stop it from spreading. All of us have an idea what is and some of us have an idea on how to stop it. Haven't all of us been preaching about water safety? We have workshops and seminars and conventions that talk or reward people and facilities for water safety. Great, it should been honored. Only now, in this magazine in Gary Thill's Editor's Desk article, "The Price of Heroism" has it come to light.

Point #4 Actions speak louder than words - Yes, I'm very impassioned about this. In the next couple of months, I'm co-leading our all lifeguard staff in-service training. All the aquatic directors are going to address this once and for all. In a tactful, respectful, and serious way. We are not perfect and neither is technology. Take a stand without pushing people into the pool or throwing an expensive cell phone (in the hip pack of course) in the pool. Great lesson, but at what price! Tell us your stories and how you have positively impacted your staff's use of cell phones. We need all the help we can get!

I have a couple of comments on this issue. The policy at my pools is no cell phone on while on duty. First time it rings or guards are seen on phone, written warning. Second time I hear it ring I answer it and keep the phone for the rest of the shift. Third time, it has never gotten past two. For those guards who have to call for a ride, they can use their phone 30 minute before end of shift, in the presense of a supervisor.

I had one guard a few years ago who was obviously texting while in the chair. We added an additional guard to cover her water, and a supervisor then went and asked her if she had her phone with her or was texting which she denied. We then watched her for a few more minutes and saw her receive another text which she replied to. I then sent her a very short text " You're Fired", the look on her face was priceless, I sent a guard out to relieve her and she left with no discussion. I know some may say this was a cruel or improper way to handle the situation, however I did not ruin her phone by making her go in the pool for a drill, and she had to have known she was being watched.

Hope everyone is having a great winter, and looking forward to seeing you in Houston


Im happy to see the responses to my quick response to this topic...

The fact of the matter is, This subject has been an issue in my operations since 1995. NYC lifeguards make a premium, and there have always been issue with texting pagers, and now the cell phones. I have tried EVERYTHING in the book: Write ups, firings, Sanctions, Docking pay, Reducing shifts, More firings, confiscate cells during a shift, RULES, RULES, AND MORE RULES..., Did I mention Firings?!

So, when you see that This manager of 16 years has resorted to dumping a cell phone in the pool (BTW - insurance is 7 bucks a month - these kids can afford it!), its because I am so INCENSED at the thought that someone can be so IRRESPONSIBLE to try that kind of thing on MY WATCH.

Oh - lets not forget that its been 6 months and counting that I have not seen 1 phone on my Pool decks. 25 pools in THREE states. I say again - its not PERFECT, but its EFFECTIVE.

Clemente Rivera - Regional Pool Manager - Town Sports International (New York Sports Clubs)
How are YOU watching staff at 25 pools in THREE states effectively enough to prevent this issue without resorting to dumping phones and guards in the pool?
Using "communication device" while on duty? Bye, bye Lifeguard, best of luck in future pusuits!
For my Guards it is consider one of our cardinal Lifeguard sins to use your phone on duty (we view it the same as reading while on duty). This is grounds for immediate termination, no if ands or buts.
I thought it would be fun to share this with my staff...see how they respond. I'll keep you posted. We too are challenged by this- Staff are not allowed to use phones at work- and must ask permission to use one (call a ride, look for sub).

I find there are benefits for myself with the current technology- having a group list to send out a need for help with coverage- staff tends to respond to text vs phone call for some reason....

That being said at work not ok- right now the most i have done is locked a phone in my office- and if I am gone for the day- they have to wait for my return to get their phone.....I have only had to do that once- and word spread fast.
I know this is becoming an issue for many facilities (including mine). My policy is if caught with a cell phone while on duty (even if your not using it) results in suspension. Second time caught is termination. I found most guards try to hide the phone by placing it behind the rescue tube when it's sitting on their lap. It can be very difficult to notice.
no second chances if you are caught texting in the lifeguard chair. Guard is fired. After firing 1 guard during the summer, and holding another inservice of this very topic in the Fall, I still had a guard text in the chair ....guess what, they no longer work for me either.


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