Will Too Few Lifeguards Create an Increased Risk of Injury or Drowning this Summer?

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As the Wall Street Journal summed it up, the job of summer lifeguard used to be a highly sought-after position that, at least for teens, not only provided a steady paycheck for the summer but also elevated its holder to king or queen of a small summer fiefdom. Or, at least, that’s what the movies largely of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s promoted and popularized. However, like all things cultural, nothing is forever.

Maybe it’s the proliferation of cell phones and other electronic devices. After all, social media plays a central role in the life of any teen and the cell phone is often that link to a teen’s entire social universe. Whereas the role of lifeguard once brought teenagers to their friends and peers, today the job may have the opposite effect since cell phones and other electronic devices are banned from the lifeguard’s chair and their use while on-duty constitutes a fire-able offense. Today, teens may be more interested in keeping up with social happenings or they may be spending their summer hoping to beat the still sour entry-level job market by working as an intern.

Whatever the cause for the decline, there is a decline in the number of teens seeking employment as a lifeguard. While some pools have cut back on summer swimming hours, we have yet to see if this shortage of lifeguards will result in reduced safety at pools and other guarded bodies of water this summer. If you have been seriously injured at a pool due to insufficient maintenance, insufficient supervision, or other negligent or reckless behavior the personal injury attorneys of The Reiff Law Firm can help.

How may the Lifeguard Shortage Reduce Safety at Pools, Lakes, and Beaches?

We have already discussed how some pools are addressing the shortage of lifeguards by cutting back on hours of operation. However, by cutting back on the times that the pool operates, it is likely to increase the number of people visiting during the hours where the pool remains open. For lifeguards, this means additional people to watch in the pools and on the decks. The additional people in the pool can lead to localized or a generalized overcrowding of the swimming areas making it more difficult to identify a swimmer in distress.

Furthermore, while the impact of this safety risk is somewhat mitigated by facilities to keep lifeguards part time, life guards may be expected to work longer shifts, additional shifts, or odd shifts. Because the job of a lifeguard requires them to remain vigilant at all times – and most of the time there is little action to be taken – maintaining focus can be made even more difficult.

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How Does Pennsylvania Certify Life Guards?

Pennsylvania law sets forth standards not only for training and certifying lifeguards, but also minimal staffing standards for pools and other public swimming facilities. As for the certification of lifeguards, the standards and requirements are set forth in § 18.42 of the Pennsylvania Code. Under provisions of the Code, the Pennsylvania legislature recognizes and authorizes certain organizations as authorities to certify lifeguards. Furthermore, it sets up a process where organizations other than the American Red Cross, the YMCA, and eff Ellis and Associates, Inc. can apply and receive certifying authority. The generalized requirements for an organization to be be authorized as a credentialing body for lifeguards includes:

  • The company or organization conducts a training course according to a text book, written training manual, or instructor’s manual.
  • The course provides some method of confirming or certifying the prospective guard’s competency in CPR.
  • The course provides first-aid certification.
  • There is a systemic evaluation of swimming ability.
  • Lifeguarding responsibilities and procedures are set forth and described.
  • The course provides a certificate of completion that is good for up to three years.
  • The course is conducted by instructors who have been successfully trained or certified in life guard instruction, program planning, student evaluation, CPR, and conducting rescue and first-aid drills.

The law also sets forth requirements for the number of lifeguards required at recreational swimming facilities.  The number of required lifeguards is based, in part, on the total surface area of water the pool has. For every 4,000 square feet of water surface area, the pool must provide at least one certified lifeguard. If after accounting for the full 4,000 square foot areas there is a fraction of surface area remaining that exceeds 1,000 square feet an additional certified guard must be provided. Special provisions exist for the guarding of wading pools and pools with diving boards or water slides open to the public. One of the provisions requires pools with public diving boards to station a lifeguard no more than 50 feet from the area to monitor the diving area.

Will the Reduced Number of Guards Lead to More Pool & Swimming Accidents this Summer?

While it is too early to say what exact effect this lifeguard shortage may have, it is safe to say that many families may experience cut backs in hours and availability at their local pool or aquatics center. While we certainly hope that pool directors and guards can carry the load this summer and stop preventable injuries, drownings, and deaths from occurring this summer, the system is under greater stress than it has ever coped with. If you or a loved one does suffer a life-altering injury or wrongful death due to negligence or recklessness at a public pool, call the experienced personal injury lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm at (215) 246-9000.

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