Distractions in lifeguarding

male pool lifeguard looking down at mobile phone and not paying attention to the pool 

In busy aquatic facilities, there are many distractions that can be a dangerous barrier to the ability of a lifeguard to effectively supervise a pool. We have unfortunately heard of tragic incidents occurring in overseas aquatic centres, which have been the result of lifeguards becoming distracted on the job.

As a lifeguard, to provide effective supervision you must be prepared for whatever situation or emergency arises. To minimise any distractions, you first need to be aware of them and have methods in place to manage them.

Have a conversation with your team and ask ‘what distracts us when we are on deck?’; “what draws our focus away from the patrons in the water?’. Discuss ways you can tackle these issues.

External Distractions

  • Kids misbehaving - ensure the kids that start to misbehave are made aware of the rules. Provide them with ground rules and consequences if they do not follow them (e.g. 3 strikes and you're out)
  • Patrons asking questions or wanting to talk to you - ensure you are always watching the pool; don't turn your back if having a quick chat with a patron to answer a question or to provide instructions. Keep conversations as short as possible.
  • Environment - excessive noise, heat, glare and rain can all reduce the focus of a lifeguard on duty. Discuss with your team ways to minimise these distractions.

Internal Distractions

In addition to physical disturbances, distractions can also be mental. Maintaining focus mentally is often the biggest challenge that lifeguards face when supervising for long periods of time.

  • Fatigue - if you're tired, your concentration will be impacted. Ensure you get a decent sleep before turning up for work.
  • Sickness - being unwell will affect your ability to concentrate and maintain patron safety at the pool.
  • Dehydration - ensure you drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated while on duty.
  • Stress/excessive internal thoughts - being stressed or having something else on your mind can greatly reduce your ability to effectively supervise as your mind wanders. Focus on the job at hand and what you are there to do.

Ask yourself the ‘I'M SAFE’ questions before each shift:

I – Injury or Illness

Am I fit for work? Do I have any injuries, or am I suffering from any illness that will affect my performance?

M – Medication

Am I under the effect of any medication that may cloud my judgement or slow my reaction times?

S – Stress

Am I under stress from either work or home? Do my thoughts keep wandering to something other than my job?

A – Alcohol or Drugs

Am I under the influence of either alcohol or drugs?

F – Fatigue

Am I tired or not adequately rested to fulfil my duties and supervise effectively?

E – Expertise

Am I competent enough (do I have the expertise) to complete all aspects of my job? Is there extra training I need for a specific task or area of my work?

Ensuring you are physically fit and healthy, and that none of the above factors are an issue, is important in reducing the likelihood of you becoming distracted on deck.

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