Monthly Archives: April 2014

Speaking of Aquatic Supervisors: What’s a Pool Monitor?

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if “pool monitor” is a new term to some. It is a type of swimming pool supervisor used almost exclusively in the homeowner association (HOA) market to provide some supervision without taking on the liability and extra costs of posting lifeguards. To understand how this works, we have to look at a law that is rather common in state regulations for swimming pool operation.

Many state laws call for a sign to be posted at swimming pools that do not require lifeguard services (e.g., hotel/motel pools, homeowner association pools, etc.). Perhaps you have seen such a sign posted:

Massachusetts-No-Lifeguard-Duty-Sign-S-7754Signs like this limit the liability of pool operators when lifeguard services are not required by state law. This is really a notice to swimmers and parents that children cannot swim without adult supervision and, in the case of this sign, that adults should not swim alone.

Pool monitors are the result of HOAs “playing both sides against the middle”: to have the protection of a “No Lifeguard on Duty” sign while providing cheaper “nonlifeguard” supervision at their swimming pools. This is fine except that these HOAs often blur the distinction between pool monitors and lifeguards to the extent that a mixed message is sent to families who cannot tell whether the “lifeguard” protocol or the “no lifeguard” protocol is in effect. The problem is further complicated when the HOA owners/management retain control of pool operation instead of deferring to specialists in aquatic safety.

I took a quick look at the laws in several states and could not find any provision for a “pool monitor.” Either lifeguard services are required or the sign is posted. Period. That being said, here are some ways for HOAs to avoid confusing their membership who are just trying to cool off and have fun in the sun:

  • Pool monitors should not be dressed in lifeguard-like uniforms, carry rescue tubes, sit in lifeguard stations, or otherwise look and behave like lifeguards.
  • Pool monitors should not make swimming rescues with or without equipment. Nonlifeguards should make reaching, throwing, boating, and wading assists only.
  • No Lifeguard on Duty signs should be displayed prominently throughout the facility and handouts should be given to all participants to clarify the policy.
  • Pool monitors should have clearly defined duties and “continuous supervision,” “scanning,” “rule enforcement,” “performing rescues,” etc. should not be a part of their duties. Those are lifeguard tasks and, in situations where there are no lifeguards, these duties fall to the parents of children in the water. Pool monitors may be asked by management to help parents in supervising, rescuing, and caring for their children in and around the water.
  • Pool monitors should not be supervised by the HOA but rather be under the control and supervision of an aquatic specialist like the lifeguard company providing the pool monitors. HOA owners/managers generally lack the knowledge to make good decisions about aquatics, including but not limited to visibility, supervision and crowd control, activities in the area, staff duties, etc. and they may make political decisions that they later deny when a drowning or other tragic event goes badly in the pool and the time comes to deflect liability to the contracting agency who had no say in the decision that led to the accident.

No one has asked my opinion (at least not yet), but I would recommend that lifeguard agencies who provide services to HOAs negotiate carefully the roles that their staff will play at the facility where they will work. It is important to put everything in writing.

Above all, pool monitors either are not lifeguards and should not look or behave like lifeguards, or they should be called lifeguards and the “no lifeguard” signs should be removed when lifeguards are on duty.

Define Water Safety Supervisors Carefully

Supervision is an essential aspect of water safety. Parents and other guardians supervise their children, group leaders watch over their participants, and operators of swimming pools, beaches, and water parks hire lifeguards to scan swimming areas. All these types of supervision can be equally effective despite using different methods to ensure water safety.

Supervision by Parents/Guardians

Let’s start with parental supervision. Parents, guardians, babysitters only need to keep track of a few kids. Easy, right? Wrong! Children of all ages can quickly get in trouble. Small children often escape parental supervision and find themselves near the water unsupervised. Even when children are in the water under parental supervision, they can get into trouble with just one bad decision about diving, exploring deep water, etc. Here are some tips:

  1. Very young children need to be supervised at all times. They can reach the water and drown in the time it takes to answer the phone or flip a couple burgers.
  2. Use layers of protection to keep children safe. Contrary to what some swim schools might tell you, learning to swim at 3 months is not as important as constant adult supervision at the pool and in the home and barriers (e.g., fences, covers, locks, etc.) to water sources inside and outside the house. Other supplemental layers of protection include alarm systems, supervisor knowledge of water safety and CPR/first aid, and swimming lessons.
  3. When in the water with a young child, keep that child within arm’s reach at all times. Use a U.S. Coast Guard life jacket if necessary, but do not trust floaties, water wings, plastic rings, etc.
  4. For children old enough to read and understand rules, walk them around the pool and show them the posted rules and markers. Discuss why each rule is important. Be emphatic, not dramatic.
  5. When you are acting as a supervisor for your child, do not read, sun bathe, or visit with other adults. Keep eyes on your children at all times.
  6. Have children swim in a designated swimming area where lifeguards are on duty, but do not rely on lifeguards to watch your children. This is your responsibility.
  7. Watch for currents at beaches and rivers that can move children into dangerous water or out of your sight.
  8. Protect your children from the sun, the weather, and water contaminants.

Group Leader Supervision

Supervision by swimming instructors and coaches often goes unmentioned. The absurd conventional wisdom goes like this: “Since lifeguards cannot divide their attention between surveillance and a secondary task like teaching, it follows that instructors and coaches cannot teach and supervise their classes.” Right? Wrong!

The first responsibility of any instructor is to provide for the safety of all participants in their group. This is accomplished through supervision and otherwise accounting for participants in their class. The following tips apply to swimming instructors, WSIs, coaches, etc.:

  1. Obtain rescue and first aid/CPR training.
    1. If you swim well enough to get a lifeguarding certificate, do so. Some states consider a swimming instructor or coach with lifeguarding qualifications who supervises his/her group as providing lifeguard services.
    2. If you cannot swim well enough to be certified as a lifeguard, take a Red Cross Basic Water Rescue course, a Safety Training for Swim Coaches course, or equivalent with first aid and CPR.
  2. Dress appropriately for class. Be ready to enter the water or use equipment to make a rescue and to give care. Consider having oxygen, an automated external defibrillator (AED), a backboard, a first aid kit, reaching and throwing devices, a rescue tube, resuscitation mask, etc. accessible for your use. When in the water with your class, wear the rescue tube.
  3. Make sure the pool is free of hazards and ready to be used safely. If you cannot see the bottom, if broken glass is in the area, or if chemicals are out of balance, you cannot hold class in the water.
  4. Remove all pool covers from the pool before allowing participants in the water. Never hold class in a partly covered pool.
  5. Make sure your group is not too large to supervise. If it is, get help in the form of more staff or divide the group so that half the group is in the water and the other half is doing a land-based activity in the bleachers.
  6. Test all participants and decide where they can be in the facility. Remember that most skills can and should be taught in shallow water first.
  7. Position yourself so you can supervise the entire group. Even the strongest swimmers need your supervision.
  8. Teach corresponding water safety information with swimming and water-contact activities.
  9. Follow, don’t flout, the rules. They are appropriate for even the strongest swimmers.
  10. Take attendance before going in the water and again after class before leaving the pool area.
  11. Check the bottom of the pool before replacing pool covers or leaving the area at the end of class.
  12. Develop and practice an emergency action plan for your program.

Lifeguard Supervision

Lifeguards have specialized training to provide supervision of a swimming area. Since lifeguards provide surveillance of an entire area, they cannot focus attention on secondary tasks like swimming lessons, facility maintenance, cashier duties, etc. Tips for lifeguards include:

  1. Get proper training that includes lifeguarding, first aid/CPR, AED, and oxygen administration. Keep your training up-to-date and look for opportunities to take part in refreshers, staff training, etc.
  2. Have proper equipment on hand or accessible, including a rescue tube, a resuscitation mask, first aid equipment, backboard, etc.
  3. Come to work well rested, well hydrated, and mentally and physically ready to work.
  4. Position yourself where assigned or where you can keep constant surveillance of your entire area. Be mindful of blind spots, glare, and water conditions that affect your ability to see everything in your area.
  5. Program your mind with the victim characteristics, rule violation behaviors, hazardous conditions and practices, etc. so you will recognize them when you see them. Do not focus on scanning patterns or become distracted by the activities or people in the water. You have to see people and analyze activities, but do not become lost in the moment and forget to keep supervising.
  6. Scan appropriately and continuously. Perform visual sweeps of your assigned area, looking at the surface, middle, and bottom of the water, going from side to side, top to bottom, and point to point in your area.
  7. Inform, educate, and enforce safety rules in the area. Alert instructors of unsafe conditions or unsupervised participants.
  8. Activate the emergency action plan when your respond to an emergency and make a rescue in the most direct way. You have a duty to act appropriately in each situation.
  9. Take charge of emergency care until relieved by someone of equal or greater training.

All Supervision Is Good Supervision

Each of these supervisors uses different methods to get the job done. In some cases, the coverage of two or more supervisors may overlap and offer layers of protection. Remember all supervision is good supervision if it is adequately and continuously applied by the proper person.

Also remember that children can be taught swimming and water safety so that they can begin, as they grow older, to make good water safety decisions, thereby providing an extra layer of protection: a growing awareness of water hazards and self-reliance in the water.


School Instructor-Lifeguards

I was looking for state laws regarding “Swim at Your Own Risk” signs for another blog when I ran across the following article: Lack of School Lifeguards Prompts Questions.

In particular, I was taken aback by a statement by San-Diego–based water safety consultant Alison Osinski when she said: “We’re asking them to do two jobs at once - teach and lifeguard - and that’s impossible,” With all due respect to Ms. Osinski and those who share this conventional wisdom, I strongly disagree.

While lifeguards in a lifeguard station scanning an area of responsibility certainly should perform no other duties, including, but not limited to, teaching lessons, the same is not true for swimming instructors and coaches. Instructors and coaches have a primary duty to supervise their group and account for their participants at all times. Although this is accomplished by course planning, assessment of participant ability, class organization and management, instructor positioning relative to the class, the use of safety equipment and accountability checks, etc., these tactics and others are as effective as scanning, if not more so when focused on the group appropriately and consistently. In the absence of lifeguard service, these methods can provide comprehensive and adequate supervision of the group. If lifeguards are also stationed, their supervision of the pool area is secondary to the supervision, control, and accountability provided by the instructor/coach.

If the group is too large to be supervised by one instructor/coach, money should be spent to provide additional instructors so the group can be divided to provide effective supervision before money is spent on a stationed lifeguard. While being beneficial, lifeguard services for instructional programs are secondary supervisors.

Every time aquatic experts point to the absence of a stationed lifeguard as the root-cause of a drowning during swimming instruction, they miss the main point that a swimming instructor or coach must be taught how to be an effective supervisor of their group at all times first and foremost.