One of the most important ways to communicate your policies to your lifeguards is via a comprehensive staff manual.

An employee handbook should be useful, helpful in a timely manner, easy to use and understand, and up to date. It should answer all the questions employees may have. Following are some suggestions.

First, consider the format and layout of your manual. If you don’t already have one, you might create an electronic version, hyperlinked for easy use. Hard copies should have tabs for quick access.

Second, in terms of information, the first section of the manual must be most helpful to lifeguards in a timely manner. A good starting point is an easy-to-use emergency reference guide. Opening with an emergency reference guide helps set the tone for lifeguards. Provide information including your emergency action plan, facilities procedures, spinal injury management protocols, emergency phone list, chain of command for notification and an injury report form.

In the next section, describe the job duties of the lifeguard or staff member. Include the facility’s opening and closing checklists, policies and procedures, job description, pool rules and regulations, zones of patron surveillance and conducting patron surveillance. This section also should  contain staffing requirements for different type of activities that would or could take place at the venue — such as birthday parties — and proper response for aquatic injuries.

Reserve subsequent sections for the general “orientation” information often traditionally placed in the beginning. This includes details such as the venue’s mission statement, hours of operation, and staff contact information. Also include your substitution policy; absence/lateness policy; in-service training requirements; employee and employer responsibilities; uniform and required safety items; recording work time; hiring procedures and requirements; and a description of employee benefits.

In the final sections, you’ll want to answer questions such as how lifeguards should communicate with supervisors about missing work, illness or other situations. Does it need to be in person, phone, text, voicemail, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter? Also explain which actions working at the venue or outside on personal time could or would lead to disciplinary action or dismissal from employment. How will the lifeguard be evaluated and how often?

Finally, any appendices should contain copies of all forms, diagrams of the zones of patron surveillance for the venue, and a copy of your Lifeguard Employment Agreement. This contract should cover many of the items above.  

About the Instructor

Roy Fielding is the program coordinator for the Exercise Science degree program in the Department of Kinesiology as well as director of aquatics for the Department of Recreational Services at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He has assisted the American Red Cross for the past 12 years with the development and implementation of the Lifeguard and Lifeguard Management programs, in addition to serving as a chapter volunteer for more than 40 years. He is a member of the National American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council, and vice chairman of two Model Aquatic Health Code technical committees.