In America, 15-year-olds aren’t
allowed to do much, at least not legally. They can’t drive.
They can’t drink. And they can’t vote. But thanks to
the extraordinary efforts of an industry coalition, they can now do
something with vastly more responsibility and consequence: save
After heavy lobbying from all major aquatics groups, the U.S. Department of
Labor agreed to change its stance on workplace rules and allow
15-year-old lifeguards at waterparks. Many industry professionals
are cheering Labor’s decision.
I am not.
While I applaud the groups for setting aside their differences and working
toward a common goal, I think that energy was put into the wrong
place. It seems to me this group should have used its collective
might to create incentives that attract more qualified lifeguards,
not convince the government that adolescents should be allowed to
shoulder a responsibility few adults can handle.
I know such a stance runs counter to the business of aquatics. Many operators
might argue that they simply can’t afford to pay the wages
required to attract and keep more mature guards. After all,
it’s often only a part-time gig with few benefits, other than
a killer tan. Budgets can only be stretched so far.
When you consider the inherent risks of 15-year-old lifeguards — not
to mention the liability — that argument seems weak at best.
At 15, kids are still developing. They are often shy,
self-conscious and unassertive. Hardly the qualities you want for a
person in authority, let alone one with the responsibility to save
lives. Yes, training can make a difference. And, yes, even the
youngest guards can save lives.
But can we really tell patrons we’re offering the safest level of
service when we hire such inexperienced guards? Can a
multimillion-dollar industry truly claim it can’t afford to
pay what it might take to recruit and hire older, more experienced
guards? The United States Lifeguarding Association, for one, would
say, “no.” It recommends a minimum age of 16. Many
organizations set higher standards. In San Diego, for instance,
beach guards must be 18. Furthermore, the city hasn’t had a
problem finding and keeping such lifeguards, largely because the
pay is better.
The rest of the industry should take note.
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Credit: Gary Thill