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Australia, like many developed countries, has been steadily driving down the number of drowning events at public facilities, and that’s great news. A consequence of this is, the safer we get, the longer the length of time until the next event, and the longer we need to be vigilant for.

So, the challenge becomes, how do we stay vigilant for longer and longer periods?

At the moment, when I ask lifeguards how many times they got wet in the last twelve months, the answer is either once, or none. I rarely hear someone say ‘twice’.

For a critical routine task, research into human rates of reliability suggest we have a built-in failure rate and I’ve been wondering if we’ll reach a point where we can’t reduce our drowning rate any further with human intervention alone?

Humans exposed to long hours in low stimulation environments get bored and in a world of mobile devices and 24/7 stimulation, humans have probably never been so ill equipped to deal with boredom.

This can manifest as problem for recruiting too. The people you really want applying for lifeguard positions are the first responder type; people who like caring for people. People who like running into an emergency, when everyone else is running out. When first responders don’t get their ‘fix’, they start looking for greener pastures. They want to feel useful; like they’re making a difference.

So, what can we do to stay vigilant on deck?

Here’s some thoughts;

  1. Walk this way. Walking has never been more important. Besides allowing you to cover all your water, walking raises your heart rate to around 75 beats per minute which is optimal for brain function and vigilance.
  • Shirt on, game on. You don’t see first grade footballers wearing their jersey to the stadium before a big game. They wear their ‘comfies’ to the field and get changed. In the process becoming ‘the footballer’. We can do the same. Wear your street gear to work and then get changed into your lifeguard uniform. Make the distinction; become that first responder. Then go out there on deck and put in a grand final effort for the length of your shift. At the end of the day, step back out of the role and go back to being whoever you are in civilian street.
  • Expect it to happen today. This kind of mindset has you mentally prepared to do, what could be, your most important work ever. Nothing quite breeds failure like complacency. It is our greatest enemy and it seeps slowly into a workplace.
  • Take a spare uniform. If don’t have a spare uniform in your bag, you’re already telling yourself ‘I’m not gunna get wet today’. Sound like complacency? Besides that, if you do get wet, for the girls it’ll be a 4 hour wet T shirt competition, and boys… it’ll be no undies Monday and then chaffin’ Tuesday.
  • High fidelity simulation training. For those of you who’ve done it you’ll agree; there’s nothing quite like it. It’s difficult training and you learn real stuff. If you want to test the veracity of your procedures or your understanding of them, there’s nothing like having a crack at in what I call the Red Zone. Lifeguards naturally wonder; ‘how will I perform when it really happens?’Red Zone training gives you and your team, the confidence to say; ‘we’ll be ok’.
  • Dummy drops. For this you need a solid induction process that gets staff on side and agreeing to the benefits. You also need some clear boundaries around when and how it’ll be used. You’ll want a technique that builds ability and confidence, not one that destroys it.

If you’ve got other ideas on how to stay vigilant I’d love to hear them.