Commitment  is one area of working with this generation that creates tension. We offer them a great job at a decent wage and expect them to show up for every shift. But they need time off for such frivolous (sarcasm) activates as writing exams, family celebrations, travel, illness, etc.  Are they all that different from the generation of  staff that worked in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, or in the early 2000s?

After thinking about this I think the answer is no. I also think that commitment is a two way street.

We were just as self centred and have forgotten what it is like to be young.  At 16 we wanted to work, but just enough to get by. 6 -9 hours a week was fine. School was very important, and I really did like my job.

What creates commitment? Difficult question when you consider this is largely something that comes from within. It is an intrinsic value. Don’t get me wrong; there are strong extrinsic forces here as well. We did like the money and for me working in a female dominated environment was a wonderful benefit for this single (and lonely) guy. And we socialized… But what really mattered to me was how I felt at work and how I felt about my work.

I started teaching swimming at North Centennial and Sherbrook Pool. I was blessed with great helpful coworkers and supervisors that were so helpful and encouraging. I got the genuine sense that I was important, competent, contributing, and needed. I could ask for help and it was there – it was okay. My coworkers put me “under their wing”.  I felt a part of the whole staff. Great feeling.

I looked forward to teaching swimming. It was the best part of the week.

From this environment came my commitment. I developed into a competent and interdependent instructor.

I was in a healthy physiological place:

  • Safe
  • Competent
  • Included

What are we doing today to foster this environment?


The Post Incident Analysis (PIA) – Accident and Performance Review

After a major incident at an aquatic facility, it is always wise to review the over all response. I’ve been doing these for years now and a great deal of information has come to light as how Lifeguard staff respond in an intense situation.

It is important to give credit to the process. The City of Winnipeg developed a process with the collaboration of Dr. Brian Kowalchuk – City Psychologist, Phillip M Hay – Aquatic Manager, and myself the head lifeguard trainer at the time.

Reviews can be used even it what appears to be an innocuous event; even an informal “look-over” is valuable.

At the basic level, always ensure all field reports are completed in a timely manner, typed, and reviewed at the facility manager level and then again by a next higher level. Maintain all the original copies including rough notes. Electronic records make for easy access.

There is no such thing as “over-reporting”.

For serious events, a more formal, elaborate, and detailed process is required. It is important to involve people who are well educated and experienced in all things lifeguarding.  Look for long term employees, supervisors, trainers and instructor trainers, highly qualified – some staff may work part time as paramedics.

The point of a PIA is to review the event in detail, and compare the performance of the staff, and the outcome, to the accepted certification standards, in-house training and protocols, any government standards such as pool regulations, and legal standards.

Here are the basis steps of an Incident Analysis:

  1. Control of the scene and staff wellbeing
    • Co-operate with police and other government agencies
    • Media control
    • Documentation
    • Crisis team involvement if needed
    • Isolate and support staff
  2. Review all reports and documentation
    • Have pre-meeting with PIA committee
  3. Interview all staff involved
  4. Review material
    • Have post interview meeting with PIA committee
    • Keep management in the loop where needed
  5. Make conclusions and recommendations in a report form

It sounds fairly straight forward and it is and it isn’t. No two events are ever the same. It should be also made clear to the committee, that this is not “fun” work and certainly not for social loafers.  It requires a very analytical mind. A fair bit of mental incubation goes on; you have to sleep on this stuff, and oddly it keeps you up at night. The urge to come to judgement before all the facts are clear is strong. You may very well affect someone’s livelihood. It may involve the legal system and certainly the Union or Labour Board.

The Interviews:

The point here is to take the field reports and the interviews and reconstruct the scene. Questions include:

  • What was happening prior to the event?
  • Where were all the lifeguards prior?
  • Where were the caregivers if relevant?
    • This includes parents, baby sitters, group leaders, swim instructors, special needs workers, and spouses, etc. Basically anyone left in charge of someone’s care.
  • Who spotted the situation?
    • What did they see?
  • What happened after the event was recognised?
  • What went well?
  • Where are the concerns?
  • How did the training help?
  • What would help in future training?
  • How do you feel returning to the work place?
  • Final thoughts?

This process of incident analysis is an alive process. It will continue to evolve and adapted to an ever changing work environment. It is a very necessary part of any aquatic workplace.


Fifteen Ways to Keep Your Workplace Miserable

Whether you are in a union environment or working for a private company, there will always be issues in the workplace that need addressing. This can be issues regarding staffing levels, time off, training, wages, benefits, and so on….

Here are 15 ways to guarantee that your workplace will never get better.

  1. Do not get involved in coming up with constructive methods of addressing your issues other than complaining about them. This includes not getting involved with your union as a shop steward. If you have a steward in your workplace, treat them with contempt and blame them for all the problems.
  2. Approach all concerns from a position of ignorance and judgement.
  3. Be a toxic worker in the workplace. Ensure that everyone knows just how bad things are and never set a positive example.
  4. Do a poor job just to show your contempt.
  5. Whine publicly at any occasion. This is especially effective at meetings.
  6. When complaining, do so in a rant.
  7. Never offer a solution and dismiss all suggestions.
  8. Act like you’re smarter than everyone – always point out errors in a public and condescending manner.
  9. Join or form a clique that alienates and bullies the good staff.
  10. Alienate any supervisory staff. Treat them like the enemy. If you do have a one-on-one discussion with a supervisor, tell them what they want to hear; you’re bound to fool at least one.
  11. Insist that your personal values are more important than the organization.
  12. If you do offer a solution make sure it’s ridiculously impractical  and self serving.  Better yet, start a major initiative, than bail out at a critical time and leave the workplace in a bigger mess. Blame management.
  13. Bad mouth your employer publicly.
  14. Discourage any perspective employees from applying.
  15. To be a master at all of this, remember to stay just below the radar.

I hope these suggestions help you out.

Hey Lloyd! This is a pretty negative view point. Yeah, it is and it isn’t. Lets go over each point and find what’s good.

  1. Get involved! Speak up! Offer positive solutions. You may not get all you want but you will see change. Most supervisors welcome good ideas. Experience in a union or work committee is evaluable. If you’re fortunate to have a steward in your workplace – treat them well; they are generally volunteers.
  2. Do your homework on issues and ask questions. You may find a very good reason for why things are the way they are. If you have your facts, you will garner more respect.
  3. Be a positive element in the workplace. Drawing people toward you influences the right crowd.
  4. If you’re a top performer and you are confident in speaking up; well it’s hard to keep a good person down.
  5. Whining is immature and unprofessional. Speak with confidence and remember to have your facts.
  6. Ranting is a sure way to push people away, especially those that you need to influence. It could get you in trouble and possibly fired.
  7. If you have a great idea, share. Again…. most good leaders welcome good ideas.
  8. You may have an IQ of 180 – but who cares if you lord it over everyone. People skills matter, sometimes more than smarts. If people recognise your intelligence but never feel stupid in your presence – you get it.
  9. You probably work in a team based environment. Forming a subculture is destructive. This too may get you into trouble.
  10. The worst thing a supervisor did was apply for a job. Not a sin. Being the supervisor is just a job; a necessary one at that. You don’t have to love your supervisor, but you are expected to respect the position.
  11. The more collective your thinking becomes, the more we all benefit.
  12. Solutions require a big picture look. They also require a thorough understanding of what the various issues are. Focus on the group benefits which include the organization. If you’re asked to help out with an initiative and you commit, honour your commitment to the best of your ability.
  13. Bad mouthing an employer or using social media to malign, could also get you into trouble. Avoid this!
  14. You want to be able to celebrate the great job you have – right? Or why do you work there? If you can’t promote your place of work, perhaps it’s time to move on.
  15. If you think negativity in the workplace goes unnoticed – think again.


Majors and Minors – Let’s get it straight

Nothing annoys me more than a poorly functioning lifeguard team. Most of the time it comes down to understanding “majors” and “minors”. Everyone reads more into this than necessary. Minor = one guard can handle the situation. Major = 2 or more guards required. That’s it! Nothing more. Most candidates attach an urgency to the definition. No! No! No! Again: Minor = one guard can handle the situation. Major = 2 or more guards required. In theory, angina could be handled by one guard; it’s a minor. Yikes! Isn’t angina serious? Yes, it could be an M.I. But how many guards do we need? One – if they can handle it. Does the patient respond to meds? Are they relatively stable? And so on.

What this means is how the team responds to various situations. If you have, for example, two guards on deck, one on break, and a guard calls for assistance, does the third guard take over the guarding or assist? If this guard takes over the guarding, it’s a minor. If the third guard assists, it’s a major. If the pool no longer has sufficient coverage – clear the pool. It is that simple.

Hope this helps you on your next recert. (and on the job)


The “tailgate certification”

Oh boy have I wanted to rant about this for some time. Certifications that aren’t certifications. Poorly taught classes or no class at all. Cash changes hands; certification cards are issued – no skill or knowledge review at all.

I’m not here to write an expose on bad trainers; I’m here to discuss the customer that is willing to pay for a “quick and dirty”. Don’t fall for the easy cash; it’s never worth it. How did I get it? Let me tell you.

I’ve been known to hold my lifeguard candidates to a standard. If they were struggling with a skill, I’d work with them until they got it. No short cuts. No excuses.

Jaw thrust is a tricky skill to learn. With time everyone usually gets it. I remember spending time with some young Lifeguard candidates on this skill. I ensured they could do it properly. They whined and complained – “It’s hard!” “My wrists hurt!” At the end of the day, they all could do it.

Years later one of my students was at a bar with a friend. They were followed home from the bar by someone who mistook them for someone else. My student’s friend was assaulted with a steering club. The friend sustained a serious head injury. Waiting for the paramedics, the former student performed the jaw thrust on his friend to safe his life. He shared the story with me. His quote to me still shakes me up – “Lloyd, I did exactly what you taught me, I opened his airway and he began to breath”

I taught him.


Uniforms and Professionalism

For the life of me, I could never put into words my concerns with uniforms and Lifeguards. Until now. At least I hope so.

As a group, Lifeguards are often young, thin, fit, good-looking, and not afraid to show it. As a supervisor I got myself into a squeeze when I shared my concern with the female staff wearing what I coined as “Daisy Dukes” or “booty shorts”. I felt it just wasn’t professional looking. Some of the female staff thought I was being sexist. Yikes! Not my intent at all! Since there was no mention of rules for male staff at the time, perhaps that was the issue; I may never really know. Once you hit 50 this all becomes a big mystery.

Let’s keep it simple. All Lifeguards should look professional. The uniform should clearly identify the Lifeguard, breath for comfort, and be completely functional. Water shedding is always an issue. No distractions.

Both male and female staff uniforms should consist of a proper shirt (Tank, golf, or T-shirt) and shorts. Functional track pants that shed water and are congruent with the overall uniform are fine. Foot wear would be appropriate to the venue. Ideally hats that match the uniform are best but the hat’s first function is to protect the Lifeguard from the sun; this would be an outdoor issue.

For the male staff: please – no Speedos (too much information) – proper shorts and yes you should wear a shirt. No modifying the shirts to show off your pipes and pecs. This includes purposely wearing extra tight tops. What’s your message?

For the female staff: bikinis are just going to garner the wrong message when you’re on the job. One-piece bathing suits are a wise choice. Save the bikini for the beach on days off. Hiking up the shorts to show off more leg – again, what’s the message?

My experience suggests that the public view Lifeguards that appear professional, as competent.

Having troubles getting the staff to follow the uniform policy? Are the uniforms attractive? Do they fit properly? Are they of good quality? Are there options? Is it a requirement? Are you issuing sufficient articles to reflect the amount of days worked; don’t be cheap – the more the staff work, the more uniforms they will require. Most of us don’t do laundry every day.

Till next time.


Exam Day Advice

Exam Day Advice

So many of us Lifeguards have well developed skills, fitness levels, and can spout emergency guideline theory like a well seasoned pro, and yet once in a simulated situation (sit), it just doesn’t go as smooth as expected. Why do otherwise competent guards forget the basics such as an all important pool clear, or EMS activation? Why do they work with their backs to the pool? Commonly, Lifeguards, who are known for their social interaction with their peers, clam up during a situational exercise knowing full well that communication is the key to success in any real emergency. Why is this?

The following points should help all lifeguards get through their situational exercises, and more importantly gain the intended benefit – practicing for the real thing.


Practised Stress – Perspective Realignment

One of the purposes of the final exam is to prepare the candidate for an actual emergency. If the candidate is able to overcome the stress of an exam, they are more likely to prevail during a real emergency. It’s a valuable and necessary experience.

Once in situation, ask yourself  “What would I really do if this were actually happening?”

Often Lifeguards try to figure out what the examiner or instructor wants to see, and this is actually a hindrance. There are generally many correct approaches to every situation; go for the first one that works for you and your team. Remember too, the examiner is only holding you to the established standard (Must Sees).


Guideline theory only highlights commonalities from past events and offers key steps that should occur. Real events have a high degree of chaos, and the Lifeguards often do not have complete control. Real events do not play out like a script or choreography; Lifeguards need to be able to adapt as best as possible including having the event play out in a different order than presented on paper. Guideline theory should only be used as a framework for the Lifeguard to follow.

Remember that situations are judgment skills exercises. You are in fact problem-solving. This means that it is perfectly acceptable to adapt and take advantage of the circumstances as they unfold.

A good example: Two Lifeguards have just removed an unconscious patient from the water. A third Lifeguard appears with their gloves on and a CPR shield at the ready. Who takes over the patient’s head (vitals)? Obviously the guard that is ready to make any necessary contact with the patient – the one with the gloves and mask.

Other examples may be removing a spinal injured patient from the water first and then calling EMS because you only have two guards or the patient is large and all three guards are required immediately. You may opt to have 2 guards remove the spinal while a 3rd guard controls the deck. So really… there are many good approaches. THINK!

Real Versus Simulation

Real situations have real signals; the blood and pain are real, the injury or illness actually occurred. Situational exercises, no matter how elaborately set up, lack information. So…



“I’m approaching the scene, donning gloves, what do I see?”
“Is there danger present, is there evidence of trauma suggesting serious injury?”
“I’m looking at the patient, what do I see?”
“I’m checking for responsiveness, are they responsive?”
“I’m checking for breathing, are they breathing? I have a mask if necessary.”
“I’m giving two breaths, do they go in?”
“I’m checking for signs of circulation, are there signs?”
“I’m doing a rapid body inspection for deadly bleeds and emergency medical indicators. What do I find?”
“I’ve positioned the patient according to their condition and placed a blanket on them. I’m monitoring vitals; are vitals still present?”

State What You Are Thinking and What You Are Doing

“I see no obvious danger, I am approaching the scene.”
“This patient is talking. Therefore, they are conscious with an open airway, breathing, and have circulation.”
“I have checked this patient from head to toe and found no injuries or medical tags.”

Talk to your team mates, and listen to your team mates. This includes speaking up if a team mate is doing something wrong or needs help. Frame criticisms in the form of a request. “The chest strap is next!” The more you communicate with each other, the better the situation will flow. The best analogy is:

The team is working on a group project.
Everyone contributes to the project through discussion and doing their part.
The rescue leader or team leader makes the final decisions.

Delegate and look or ask for things to do Successful rescues are a team effort. If your trying to do everything yourself, you’re going to be over-tasked and prone to error. If you’re just standing there waiting for direction, you’re useless; look for the obvious priority task that requires attention and then do it! State everything you’re doing to the team and team leader.

Be aware of what is going on around you at all times. Lifeguards often develop a tunnel-vision like mentality during a situation, focusing only on what is in front of them and tuning out everything else. While it is important to focus on the patient, the lifeguard must also filter out important information that is occurring during the emergency. This includes cueing to the two-way radios, reports or requests from team mates, public address announcements, crowd control problems, unsafe conditions, tasks that require attention, poor performance from another Lifeguard, etc.

Keep it SIMPLE! ABCs are always the priority. Don’t read more into the situation than you need to. Often Lifeguards assume the situation is going to be far more complicated that it really is.

Example: a kid has been at the pool all day and his eyes are red and sore. Is it a massive chlorine leak or has the kid been at the pool all day, his eyes have had it, and he should bring goggles next time?

An old medical adage states: “Don’t look for zebras in your back yard”. Simple does not mean shallow; pay attention to obvious details.

If you make a mistake, fix it just as you would in an actual emergency. Don’t beat yourself up and shut down; there is probably a solution – make it work. Avoid maximizing your errors; they are generally not as big as you think. Avoid minimizing your good performance; give yourself and your team mates credit where it is due.

Final tip: the situations during an National Lifeguard exam may not be real, but the exam is very real; make it your reality.


Prevention of Accidents – What is Prevention?

Often when a tragedy occurs at an aquatic facility, one of the first complaints that arise is the lack of prevention. When I ask people, “So what is prevention?” Generally I get confused looks and comments such as “You know, prevention – stop things from happening!” So I ask again, “And what does prevention look like? What do we do that amounts to prevention?”

Most people define prevention as stopping the customer from doing dangerous activities. And that people is only one aspect of prevention – rule enforcement.

Prevention is accomplished on the many levels including:

Facility risk analysis

Determine risks

This requires an in-depth inspection of your facility preferably in the design phase. Often professionals and experts are brought in to assist including safety specialists. The Lifesaving Society Canada provides just such a service.

Eliminate risks

Once the obvious risks are identified, eliminate those identified where practical.

Control and manage risks

Those risk areas that can not be eliminated are controlled and managed to the best of the operation’s ability. This may include physical barriers, etc.

Rule and Policy creation, review, and enforcement

Create rules and guidelines on every aspect of the operation and ensure there is a enforcement method. i.e. One person on the diving board at a time. Walk on the deck – no running.

Public education

Some rules are not obvious to the untrained. This may be the patrons first experience in a leisure aquatic environment. Education can take place in many forms including:

  • Signage (in multiple languages)
  • Pictograms – See the rule as a picture
  • Programs that target safety, swimming skills, first aid, etc
  • Talking to patrons

Public education also includes the importance of parental or caregiver supervision.

If you’re not within arm’s reach, you’ve gone too far!

Parental supervision includes parents, babysitters, spouses, school teachers, teachers aids, special needs workers, “the buddy system”, etc.

Encourage people to choose a supervised swim area over a unsupervised swim area. “Supervised” means with certified Lifeguards.

Educating caregivers on the signs of drowning is very helpful.

Effective hiring practices

Much grief can be eliminated by hiring quality people from the start.

Lifeguard training and education

The training Lifeguards receive from the various agencies is just the start. Employers are expected (by law in some areas) to provide pre-hire and regular ongoing training for all staff.

Supervision and scanning

Ensure that the Lifeguarding staff know what is expected when they are guarding. This comes down to which techniques for scanning are to be employed. Where are the Guards positioned? Establishing Lifeguard position Diagrams for the various bather loads and conditions is crucial.

Performance audits of the Lifeguards

This could look like a “secret shopper” or an unannounced detailed analysis of the Lifeguards and rescue equipment.

Personal accountability

Develop a culture where it is okay to error and admit it. If we all learn from the error, we can prevent it from reoccurring.

Maintaining standards through regular testing of the staff’s skills and fitness

  • Testing bonafide occupational requirements is a good way to ensure skill and fitness retention.
  • Create incentives such as no-charge use of the facility.

Effective leadership to reinforce and enforce the training and job expectations of the Lifeguards

If the leadership of the organization ignores unsafe practices, they are in effect condoning these practices. Develop the leadership team from the front line and up. Support the leadership team.

Prevention is in fact a collection of elements that greatly reduce the risk to all swimmers.

Hopefully this article gives everyone a good start with the subject of Prevention.

Lloyd Plueschow


Keep the training straightforward and not so spectacular
By Lloyd Plueschow
Modern lifeguard training should focus on the rudiments of good lifeguarding. It makes no practical sense to introduce advanced skills like oral pharyngeal airways (OPAs), manual suction, and cervical collars, particularly if EMS is close at hand, when pool deck management and basic first aid skills are lacking. Lifeguards do need solid first aid skills, but not at the expense of basic scanning skills, rescue skills, and situational (sits) role responsibilities.
Lifeguards do provide professional first aid
Lifeguards should be adept at the standard first aid (SFA) level. The difference here is that they are doing it at a professional level. The response should always remain within the scope of the job; lifeguards are not paramedics and paramedics are not lifeguards. At some point, a line of minimum basic care must be drawn. Consider as well, that changes are always coming – Auto Defibrillators are making their way into more and more public areas. Lifeguards today have more in-depth first aid training than ambulance attendants (now called EMTs and Paramedics) did in the 1960s. There are some techniques lifeguards carry out that are not taught to the general public and are expected by EMS to be preformed by the lifeguards. These include:
• In depth spinal cord injury management.
• Basic skin closure techniques.
• The ability to focus on a patient, and still respond to relevant external critical signals such as a two-way radio or other sources.
• Oxygen equipment.
Are advanced skills a waste of time?
No, but they should reflect what is needed and should be provided by the respective employer to address specific needs. The level of treatment provided would be in relation to the EMS response – the longer the expected wait, the greater the care provided; in most large communities, this is not an issue. NLS training should focus on the rudiments of professional lifeguarding, and be broad-based; the successful candidate would be able to gain employment in most aquatic environments. This training would include:
• A thorough understanding of the job of a lifeguard.
• I clear comprehension of attention to task and the follies of distracted guarding.
• Thorough applied understanding of scanning. This is what we do most of the time so let’s keep the training focused here. The job is prevention.
• Well-entrenched rescue skills including spinals.
• A comprehensive applied understanding of role guidelines on the handling of major emergencies, minor emergencies, and public relations.
• This includes a clear application of “shift to cover” and back up.
• The specific role and function of each guard in the emergency or situation and in general, and the ability to role shift in a logical manner.
• Fitness. (Get your class to do one-rescuer CPR, for 5 minutes non-stop.)
• In-depth Standard First Aid skills. These include:
• Rock-solid Scene Assessment and Primary Assessment skills.
• Minor wounds, bleeds, scrapes, minor bone and joint injuries, and burns should all be a no-brainer.
• Total immersion in all modalities of CPR.
• A good basic knowledge of typical medical emergencies.
• Doing a proper SAMPLE interview.
• Complete a thorough head to toe examination when appropriate.
• Knowing when to do a “local examination” instead.
• Confidently obtaining a set of vitals at regular intervals AND recording the clock time of each.
• Detailed reporting skills.
In a nutshell, let’s train Lifeguards to Lifeguard, and while we’re at it – make it fun.
Lifeguard Lloyd

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.