In 2001, Jeff Ellis and Associates and Poseidon Technologies conducted the first on-site study on lifeguard vigilance. The study was designed to measure and record a lifeguard's ability to identify and rescue possible victims (fully submerged manikins) from the bottom of a pool. During these on-site visits, over 500 tests were performed in a variety of pools. The results were troubling:
The average detection time was one minute and 14 seconds. This number was in sharp contrast to the general rule that a guard is expected to reach the victim within 20 seconds of spotting them.
This study had profound implications for the way we approach lifeguard training today, including an increased emphasis on effective “triage” scanning and lifeguard empowerment, as well as the prevention of fatigue or inattentiveness.
Perhaps one of the most important developments that resulted from this study was an increased adoption of DROP drills.
How to Administer DROP Drills
DROP drills—unannounced drills using manikins, silhouettes or other objects—have proven to be an effective way to train and prepare lifeguards to take action. These drills should be administered every 40 hours a guard is on duty. Here's how to set up your own DROP drill program:
Step 1: Get to know your pool, including likely blindspots or problem areas that need additional attention. (See “Getting to Know Your Pool” below.)
Step 2: Purchase training devices from a supplier, or create your own with materials you have available, (e.g. silhouettes, manikins. weighted towels etc.)
Step 3: Place the training device at the bottom of the pool, within the lifeguard’s zone and without giving the guard any prior knowledge.
Step 4: As soon as the device is fully submerged, track the time it takes for the guard to respond to the device, and retrieve it from the water.
Step 5: Keep ongoing DROP Drill documentation for all guards. This allows you to track staff progress and helps to identify any areas in need of improvement.
Note: Drop Drills are only simulated rescues. However, guards are expected to always enter the water to retrieve the device. This will help to ensure that guards are not simply pointing to dropped devices–as a perceived device could ultimately be a victim.
Depending on the size/characteristics of your pool, we encourage you to decide how quickly a lifeguard should identify the silhouette on the bottom of the pool. This can be anywhere from 10 seconds-20 seconds. A lifeguard that has not met this standard should undergo some type of remediation to ensure they vigilant the next time they are in the stand. (A sample remediation program and documentation log is provided at the end of this document.)
Assessing Your Systems
It is important to remember, however, that a lifeguard's performance should not be evaluated in a vacuum. In addition to assessing individual guard performance, management can use DROP drills to determine whether the systems in place—from shift scheduling to scanning protocols to lifeguard positioning—are allowing lifeguards to succeed. If a lifeguard's position prevented him or her from seeing the silhouette on the bottom of the pool, for example, then you may need to move your lifeguard stands or encourage your guards to move around more. If multiple guards are regularly failing your DROP drills, then you may need to reevaluate your training, scheduling or even your hiring practices.
It is always necessary to evaluate lifeguard performance. And it is always necessary to revisit and revise your protocols and practices. DROP Drill training is an invaluable tool for aquatic staff, members and management alike. With consistent implementation of the DROP Drill process, lifeguards will be better trained, aquatic directors will have a way to hold staff accountable, and members and guests will have the confidence they need that the guards at your facility are vigilant, responsive and ready to act at the first sign of trouble.
During onsite visits, Redwoods will be offering to perform silhouette drops for your association. Although we highly encourage you take advantage of this service, the option will be left up to you.
Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at http://www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about risk management issues.
Getting to know your pool before administering DROP drills is invaluable. Not only is this an important responsibility that will enable guards to better identify victims, but it will also help management better maintain optimal swimming conditions for its members. Here are a few ways management and guards can become familiar with the pool:
There are many ways to go unnoticed while getting your devices into the pool. You can alternate these methods to minimize predictability, and keep your lifeguards engaged: