What’s your policy on lifeguard cell phone use? Last summer, media outlets across the nation called attention to a potentially deadly practice: lifeguards texting while on duty.
With summer 2011 in full swing and “there’s an app for
that” mentality becoming ever more pervasive, experts say
it’s time for more pool operators to get serious when it
comes to dealing with lifeguard cell phone use.
“It’s really starting to affect the industry more and
more, just like in general society. But with us, it’s a
little more dangerous,” said Chris Griffith, aquatic
supervisor for the city of Paul’s Valley, Okla. Griffith also
is moderator of the LifeguardLink group on AI Connect. “It’s
starting to encroach on the safety of our patrons.
News reports last summer included everything from “hidden
camera” investigations documenting the problem, to drowning
lawsuits claiming the guard responsible for watching the victim was
sending and receiving text messages instead.
“I see it from a litigation standpoint an awful lot,”
said aquatic safety expert Tom Griffiths. “Attorneys will
subpoena the cell phone records right away now, and that’s
not exclusive to the pool industry.”
If lifeguards have their eyes on their cell phones, how can they be
watching the water? Policies prohibiting cell phone use while on
duty may seem like a no-brainer, but that practice is “one of
the most difficult issues to tackle when it comes to lifeguard
surveillance,” added Griffiths, founder of the Aquatic Safety
Today’s lifeguards are so used to having instant access to
their various social networks — everything from Facebook to
Yelp now can be accessed via cell phone — it can be very
difficult to give that up, even for a relatively short time.
“Our younger staffers are almost tethered to their
phones,” said Kathy Fisher, aquatic director, West Morris
(N.J.) Area YMCA. “Being in constant communication has become
a way of life for them, and a difficult habit to break even while
on the clock at work.”
Like many facilities, the West Morris Area YMCA has a “no
cell phone” policy in place. Employees are not permitted to
use them anywhere on deck or in the glass-enclosed break room. This
is an important step, Griffiths said, but many pool operators still
haven’t formalized such policies. And for those who have, it
can be difficult to enforce.
Jamie Freese, aquatics program supervisor for the city of Livonia,
Mich., has a “no cell phone on duty” policy in place
that supervisors “vigorously enforce.” Still, it
hasn’t been enough to stop some pool employees.
“Attendants at the top of the slide, out of the
supervisor’s view, have been disciplined for using cell
phones,” Freese said. “These are not active lifeguards,
but to date they have been the only ones ‘on duty’ to
have had issues.”
Beyond the challenges of enforcing rules, there’s also the
question of how to handle situations where a lifeguard must have a
cell phone on their person while guarding a pool because that is
the only emergency communication option in range of the pool
Ultimately, Griffith said, “until we, as an industry, figure
out something that works for everyone, we’re going to
continue to have problems with it. There needs to be some sort of a
standard practice that’s easily adopted.”