Public pool lifeguard supervision eye-tracking study concludes

An LSV study focussing on the most appropriate ratio of pool lifeguards to patrons in public swimming pools recently concluded.

The study, conducted by LSV’s Risk and Research team in conjunction with Swinburne University, completed in early 2020.

The research aimed to determine the number of persons a lifeguard could visually scan across a public pool within a timeframe to detect a potential drowning and prevent death or neurological damage, using virtual reality (VR) eye-tracking technology.

LSV’s Principal Research Associate, Dr Bernadette Matthews said the study looked at the most appropriate ratio of pool lifeguards to patrons in public swimming pools to maximise safety and ultimately help reduce the rates of aquatic related drowning deaths within public swimming pools throughout Australia.

“Lifeguards play a key role in ensuring the safety of patrons at public swimming pools and a critical function of the lifeguard is their scanning and surveillance of the water to detect patrons in distress and to prevent drowning,” she said.

“The study employed eye-tracking technology to measure how lifeguards visually analysed and identified a drowning victim in different scenarios and the impact of different numbers of patrons in the pool.

“Pool lifeguards observed a VR-simulated drowning incident, with an algorithm tracking their eye position and movement.”

Dr Matthews said the study’s main finding was that the more patrons in a pool, the more difficult it was for a lifeguard to spot a person in trouble.

“This study demonstrated that with higher numbers of patrons in a pool, the ability of lifeguards to detect a drowning victim within the recommended time to prevent long-term effects decreases. It was found that when the number of patrons exceeded 75, a drowning victim was not identified by the lifeguards 50% of the time” she said.

“While it might seem obvious higher numbers of people in a pool would decrease the ability of a lifeguard to see a person drowning, research like this aims to provide an evidence-base for the most appropriate ratio of pool lifeguards to patrons.

“A higher number of patrons in the pool was also found to influence the time a lifeguard took to identify a potential drowning victim.”

Dr Matthews said the research had implications for current guidelines for the ratio of patrons per lifeguard, which required review.

“If there is specific number of people a lifeguard can optimally visually scan across a swimming pool within a timeframe to detect a potential drowning victim, such evidence will help to ensure such ratios are implemented in the future,” she said.

“The goal of this research is to maximise safety and ultimately reduce drowning deaths and injuries at public swimming pools.

“We thank all of the lifeguards who took part in the study and gratefully acknowledge the funding of Royal Life Saving Australia as well as the support of the APR Intern program, supported by the Australian Government Department of Education.

LSV’s research team will soon provide their evidence-based recommendations from the research to the National Aquatic Industry Committee (NAIC).

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