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:
Signs 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.