The Joys of Standardization

A while ago, I was having a discussion with a colleague about water spinal injury rescues. The discussion hinged around how strict our employer is on how we perform this rescue. Couldn’t there be just a little more latitude? Shouldn’t the lifeguards who actually perform the rescue make the decisions on how the task is executed? I felt exactly this way in my early years of Lifeguarding. What I know now, and I wish I knew then, is that there is a big picture. If you have a large staff at your site or sites, with a regular turn over, some technical responses need to be standardized for consistency. Spinal injury rescue is just one of those technical responses.  Advantages to standardization are as follows:

  •          Everyone knows what to do
  •          There are no surprises
  •          No rogue techniques
  •          Everyone knows what the other rescuer is going to do and can anticipate the next step
  •          With time, the rescues becomes very slick, fast, and smooth
  •          If you run multiple sites, and a spare guard is working from another site – no problem, everyone is trained the same; orientation is minimal. Consistency is maintained.
  •          Teaching and training is easier and can be delegated
  •          Everyone teaches the same thing
  •          Practising a set way is easier
  •          One tends to master the skills sooner
  •          Staff following in-house protocols, in good faith, are indemtified by the employer.

To give an example, I was practising with the City of Winnipeg Lifeguard Instructor Team just a while ago. We decided to do a 3-Rescuer Non-Breathing Beavertail Deep-End Rescue. We stuck to the script. There was little communication other than what was necessary; everyone knew what to do. Forty-five seconds from the vice-grip-turn to the deck; we weren’t rushing. I remember in times before, it would have taken us around three minutes to accomplish that same rescue. The feeling of team spirit when you pull off a stellar group skill like that is beyond words. Even with a set approach to a rescue, decisions within the rescue still have to be made. It’s not choreography even though you may practise it like it is. Standardization is simply a common path; there will always be parameters so lifeguards can adapt to their conditions – you’re still making decisions. At least everyone is on the same path.

I’m sold on standardization. I know it doesn’t apply to all aspects of the job, and for some people it may be perceived as stifling innovation. However, to decide which technique to use on a spinal during an actual rescue is impractical; this is not the time to experiment. If standardization, of certain rescue techniques, makes us better Lifeguards, and offers better service to our patrons, it’s the way to go.