A good lifeguard is a responsible lifeguard. Lack of responsibility can cause on-the-job problems, possible drownings and, ultimately, firing.

Pool managers want their guards to act responsibly. But what is responsible? How can aquatics professionals quantify responsibility? More importantly, how is the concept of responsible behavior translated into actual behavioral practice in a lifeguard corps?

One way to answer those questions is with a responsibility pledge. Such a pledge states specifically what is expected regarding lifeguard behavior: a professional rescuer. In signing a pledge, lifeguards acknowledge an understanding of what responsible behavior means. That pledge also serves as a written record of communication of behavioral expectations.

It’s a good idea to separate the pledge into two parts. The first is a pledge card. The pledge card has the individual’s name, date, signature line and the pledge itself — “I, John Lifeguard, have read and now understand the responsibilities I have as an employee of this aquatics facility. I agree to meet these responsibilities to the best of my ability.”

Distribute two copies of this card and have your staff sign each of them. Then collect one of the cards from each person and file it in that individual’s personnel folder.

The second part of the pledge is an explanation of responsibilities as well as responsibilities specific to the program and/or facility. Distribute this part to the group before pledge cards are signed, and read through it with them during in-service. Be sure to clarify any questionable points. It’s imperative that your staff completely understands your expectations and their responsibilities. They are agreeing to meet these responsibilities when they sign their pledge cards. This is also a good time to explain consequences of not meeting those responsibilities.

So just what is in a responsibility pledge? Essentially, it is a promise by your staff to adhere to the specific responsible behaviors you want to see. This may vary slightly from facility to facility and program to

program, but here are some basics to cover:

  • Punctuality and professionalism. Includes showing up on time and being properly attired and equipped.
  • Behavior and manners. Encompasses how guards treat patrons and peers.
  • Facility and equipment maintenance. Explains how equipment should be used, stored and treated.
  • First aid supplies. Details who’s responsible for keeping them stocked, as well as expectations regarding restocking after an item is used.
  • Paperwork. Gives clear directions for completion of legible reports and emphasizes their importance as legal documents.
  • Performance. Clarifies what is meant by surveillance and response. Anything that gets in the way of a lifeguard’s legal duty violates this responsibility.
  • Language. Stipulates professionals use polite and considerate language at all times.
  • Drugs and alcohol. Influence and/or consumption of either is unacceptable during any and all work hours. Consider urine testing.
  • Security. Details locking of facility when not in use, as well as maintaining patron safety in all locker room and common areas.
  • Certifications. Ongoing training and certification is part of the job. Certifications must be kept current.

The best time to implement the responsibility pledge is at the start of each season, as well as with any new hire that happens during the season. In addition to having a copy of the pledge for the individual and their file, the pledge can be a sign or poster in the pool office for an ongoing reminder. Remember, to be effective, the responsibility pledge must apply to all staff members. Age, length of time on the job, level of certification and friendships should not exempt anyone from participating. Responsible behavior is important to everyone.