Many aquatics operators are breathing a collective sigh of relief after the U.S. Department of Labor rescinded a portion of its enforcement position that forbade lifeguards under age 16 to oversee waterparks.

Last summer, Labor said lifeguards under 16 were not permitted to do so, leaving operators scrambling to find workers of legal age. But after reviewing the decision at the behest of an industry coalition, it revised that position. The new ruling states that 15-year-olds may serve as lifeguards at waterparks, except for dispatching or attending the tops of water slides. Working at the top of a slide is considered ?tending machinery.?

However, 15-year-olds may serve as lifeguards at catch pools at bottoms of water slides, on wave pools, lazy rivers and play areas. Labor rules state that 15-year-olds still may not work at natural bodies of water, including oceans, rivers, lakes, streams, canals, piers or wharfs. This policy has been recommended by the United States Lifesaving Association since 1980, said B. Chris Brewster, the group?s president.

The coalition that convinced Labor officials to change their waterpark position included the National Recreation & Park Association, the World Waterpark Association, International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, American Red Cross, Ellis & Associates, National Aquatic Safety Council and Starfish Aquatics Institute.

?Many of our members employ a significant number of 15-year-old lifeguards,? said Gina B. Kellogg, WWA director of communications. ?This decision lifts a huge burden off their shoulders.?

Other industry leaders are less enthusiastic. ?It?s kind of a good news, bad news scenario,? said Tom Griffiths, past president of NRPA?s National Aquatic Branch. ?To cover our bases aquatically across the country, we need to employ 15-year-olds. On the other hand, ? they lack life experience and maturity. Not too many professions allow 15-year-olds to be in lifesaving situations.?

Some states have more stringent age laws, and Brewster said many beach agencies require the minimum age to be at least 17 or 18. But there are no lifeguard shortages at beaches, and he said the waterpark industry shouldn?t have any either. ?Like any job, if the pay and benefits are adequate, you?ll be able to find qualified people to do the job,? he said.