Assisted lifeguard technology – new industry guidance
Lifeguards scan and monitor bathers within a swimming pool according to the 10:20 system which is the recognised Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) standard that has been adopted across the leisure industry for decades. The 10:20 system requires a lifeguard to be able to scan their designated zone within 10 seconds and be no further than 20 seconds from any swimmer in difficulty within their zone.
To aid lifeguards technology such as automated monitoring and detection systems (systems) has been introduced by many operators within the UK. There has, however, been little industry guidance as to the installation and implementation of such systems until recently.
The RLSS, in conjunction with various bodies and experts within the leisure industry, has published the UK Swimming Pool Operator Guidance for Automated Monitoring and Detection Systems in public lifeguarded swimming pools (the guidance). All operators of swimming pools should carefully consider this guidance as the regulatory authorities will no doubt refer to the guidance in any regulatory investigation following an incident in a pool.
The first edition of the guidance covers public pools monitored by lifeguards whose operators are considering installing automated monitoring and detection systems. The guidance does not apply to pools that are not monitored by lifeguards or existing systems that provide real time footage only.
The guidance includes useful advice as to the installation and operation of such systems including:
- Consideration should be given as to the design of the pool and any potential blind spots, to ensure optimum coverage when determining the number, as well as location, of cameras.
- If monitors/screens are to be given to lifeguards to observe live streams, it should be determined whether they should be affixed to a lifeguard’s chair, how many lifeguards should have monitors, and how many images should be on the screen in consideration of existing guidance and compliance with the 10:20 system. In the alternative, consideration should be given as to whether an employee or lifeguard should have access/consider the images in an office with a means to communicate to the lifeguards poolside.
- The Pool Safety Operating Procedures and other relevant documentation must be updated to reflect the introduction and the use of the system. This will need to include and take into account the outcome of updated Lifeguard Zone Visibility Tests to ensure the appropriate position and number of lifeguards to maintain optimum visibility of the pool.
- The guidance makes clear that systems cannot replace lifeguards. A system cannot react or interact with bathers systems can fail and not account for every element of human behaviour. When introducing technology, training and subsequent monitoring of lifeguards as to its use remains key. Training should emphasise that the systems are an aid to assist lifeguards in their duties and therefore they should not be relied upon by lifeguards nor should they be seen by operators as a means to replace lifeguards.
- On-going maintenance, including ensuring exceptional water quality, is key to make certain that the systems function effectively once installed. Lighting in the pool hall as well as any glare should be considered.
- The use of technology according to the 10:20 system should be carefully considered by the operator according to the design of the pool and system. Where the system has a monitor to display real time images, the operator will need to determine how the lifeguards will use the monitor, either for periodic checks in relation to a particular bather of concern and/or only use the monitor where the system provides an audible or visual alert. Reference should also be taken in relation to HSE guidance: Health and Safety Guidance in swimming pools HSG179 in this regard.
The first edition of the guidance published in January 2023 is welcome within the industry in consideration of technological developments and to complement existing guidance such as HSG179. Automated Monitoring and detection systems provide an additional aid for lifeguards, however they do not replace the requirement for a lifeguard. Lifeguards continue to play an important role in safeguarding bathers with the support of such systems.
As technology develops and further research into the effectiveness of 10:20 system is carried out, it is intended that the guidance will be reviewed annually by the RLSS in consultation with various industry bodies. Therefore, operators should ensure that they are registered for any updates.
Related item: Underwater surveillance technology – an additional layer of support for lifeguards