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Blended lifeguarding is a term that’ll find a comfortable place in our industry’s vernacular. The term came to life in a blog piece last week by Robin McGloughlin of Poolview in the UK.

In a nutshell, it means using technology and lifeguards to improve swimmer safety. Robin asked me my thoughts on the blended lifeguarding and my response forms part of his article.

One of the things I like about the term is Robin’s intention that no one own it; anyone and everyone can use it. Until now we’ve not really had an easy way to describe the concept.

Every trade, every job, every process, is being improved by advances in technology. None more so than in injury prevention; why would drowning be different?

Blended lifeguarding refers to any technology that helps reduce the risk of drowning death or injury. Let’s face it, it’s going to be a while before technology can dive in, get someone’s head above water, get them out of the pool and revive them. But that’s ok; in most instances we’re getting better at this bit anyway. The part we could do with some help with is detection. Fast detection can stop drowning in its tracks.

The list of these technologies grows each year, each with its own unique strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to understand these in the context of your application before considering them as part of a control measure.

In New Zealand and in most states of Australia workplace changes to workplace safety legislation have seen due diligence become statute law. It’s been part of common law since 1932. While this mightn’t seem terribly exciting, it could become so, if you have a drowning that results in hypoxic injury or a fatality.

Due diligence is all about doing everything reasonably practicable. Under previous legislation ‘risk appetite’ was the flavour of the month. You just worked out how much risk the organisation was willing to bare, then put just enough control measures in place to get your risk down to that level.

Not anymore. Now, if there is something more you could have been done, that you didn’t, the legal eagles are going to want to know why?

The trick is, what’s reasonably practical for one facility might not be for another.

Take a small rural pool, with one lifeguard that’s only open in summer and gets 5000 visitations. Might not sound like much, but these are important places for small communities. As much as we might like to including a second lifeguard, it may not be reasonably practical. The pool might already place a significant strain on the organisations budget and adding a further $25,000 plus on costs, might see the centre tip over the ‘unviable’ precipice.

Having said that, there may be other measures the centre could take that don’t cost the earth. Proper education and enforcement of a parental supervision program would be significantly cheaper and would probably be reasonably practicable.

Let’s go to the other end of the scale. Let’s say we’re a large metropolitan aquatic & recreation centre with a budget that runs well into six figures. It might be more difficult to argue that we couldn’t afford the extra $25,000. So, we bite the bullet and then, despite our extra lifeguard, sometime down the track a person fatally drowns.

Now we’re in court and the fancy barrister at the other end of the bar table is saying that there are these underwater cameras with special software that alerts lifeguards if swimmers stop moving. He says it’s essential lifesaving technology and should have formed part of the organisations risk control measures.

Can we prove due diligence if we aren’t using this technology?

To demonstrate due diligence, you must show that you considered all the available control measures and then determined which were, and which weren’t reasonably practicable for your organisation.

If you’re going to swear on the Bible that blended lifeguarding wasn’t reasonably practicable for your organisation, it will help if you have a written quote and an impact evaluation that predates the incident.

Robin McGloughlin’s blog piece on Blended Lifeguarding can be found here.