In the development of the Model Aquatic Health
Code, one of the more challenging technical committees has been the
group tackling lifeguarding/bather supervision.
The scope of work includes:
- lifeguard qualifications and training
- staffing of lifeguards and attendants
- provision of lifeguard equipment and placement requirements
- safety training (CPR, AED, etc.)
- first aid equipment and facilities
- and guidance for unguarded facilities.
That would be a very comprehensive list of standards if it were
being developed for a specific facility. Instead, this list must
provide the standards for single-pool establishments, multiple-pool
facilities, waterparks, multiple-use facilities, public venues,
private facilities, those facilities with a single guard, multiple
guards and attendants as well as the unguarded facility.
In addition to addressing the complexity of the venues and
staffing, the standards of the code need to be evidence-based as
much as possible. So we’re asking the following
- How many of the practices in the field of aquatics and
lifeguarding are based on traditions or “because they
work” vs. those that are best practices founded on true
- What is the basis for deciding the appropriate length of a
- What are the true skills that a lifeguard needs to know and
be able to perform so he or she can properly provide for the safety
of the client?
- What impact does the depth of water and type of facility
have on those true skills?
- How are those decisions made and on what protocol are they
As the committee approaches the specifics of lifeguard
qualifications and training, a challenge has been to determine if
it is performance-based or prescriptive. Again, how can a code be
developed and written that will provide the highest standards of
training for lifeguards that will ensure their ability to perform
the job in that specific venue so the safety of the swimmers is
The choice of words is critical. To suggest something be done is
not appropriate for code language, yet to be absolute in detail is
too defining. Therefore, the code language also becomes a
challenge. For example, though it seems relatively simple and easy
to describe the location or station of a lifeguard in terms of
equipment (a chair), multiple factors will influence the answer
that would appear in the code.
The members of this committee bring a breadth of knowledge,
expertise and experience to the discussion. With representation
from city, county and state agencies, universities, consulting
services and national training organizations/agencies, the depth of
the conversation on any topic can be extreme. All the potential
code content is thoroughly examined through the perspective of its
application to all aquatic venues — pools and waterparks,
guarded and unguarded, large and small, public and private.
Relevance is questioned, justification for a given practice is
expected and potential research topics to support nonevidence-based
practices are being identified. There might not be final agreement
on all points, but this committee aims to achieve the mission of
MAHC, which is to create a code that is “user-friendly,
knowledge-based and scientifically supported in an effort to reduce
risk and promote healthy recreational water
Currently, with all the states and so many of the local departments
having different codes, the possibility of having a single,
national document that will provide uniformity in standards and
expectations for aquatics facilities and lifeguards is something
all in the field should want and embrace. The safety of the public
is of primary concern, and with national standards for training and
supervision of those entrusted with that responsibility, the risk
to the patrons can be reduced.
As with all other committees, once our work is completed, it will
be posted for public comment on the MAHC Web site. Anyone with an
interest in lifeguarding is encouraged to review and comment on
these proposed code sections.
It is only when the voices of many are heard that the standards of
the final code will achieve the goals of the