LSV’s Risk and Research department, working with LSV’s Lifesaving Operations team, conducted a two-part review of the Australian Lifeguard Service across its 35 beach patrol sites, including the five new sites added in the 2018/19 season.
The project looked at the economic and social impact of the lifeguard service to Victorian communities, as well as producing a risk hazard index for all lifeguard sites.
“One of the key findings of the social impact project was that for every $1 spent on providing the lifeguard service, there was a benefit of $53 to the community,” LSV’s Principal Research Associate, Dr Bernadette Matthews said.
“Anecdotally, we knew communities appreciated the service and supported the expansion of the patrol sites.
But it was also good to be able to put an economic value on the preventive actions, rescues and first aid treatments provided by the service.”
The project involved surveys of 176 beachgoers at each of the five new sites at St Kilda, Frankston, Williamstown, Port Campbell and Tidal River, as well as three existing sites during the summer months of 2019.
Focus group sessions with paid lifeguards were also conducted, as well as one-on-one interviews with council and land manager representatives as co-funders of the service, which complements the volunteer lifesaving patrols during peak summer periods and at high-risk and popular locations, as well as at events such as the Melbourne Cup.
The physical activity and social benefits of the service rated the highest in responses averaged at all beaches (both rating 9/10), with the feeling of safety and health and wellbeing benefits next (8.6/10 and 8/10 respectively). The importance of the presence of lifeguards when deciding which beach to visit also rated highly (7/10), and the economic importance of beach visitors for local businesses was also highlighted.
“In terms of the total economic value of the service, the results showed a $91M total value across the 35 sites per year,” Dr Matthews said. “A key recommendation for improvement of the service was for LSV to work more closely with councils and other funding partners to improve public knowledge of the service and beach safety.”
In order to determine the level of lifeguard services and placement of lifeguards at the most appropriate locations, LSV’s Risk and Research team developed two useful models.
The first was a hazard index model using numerous variables, such as wave height (CSIRO Wave Hindcast), site attendance and rescues along with historical drowning events to determine weekly hazard scores at each lifeguard site.
The second model was a rescue probability model that determines the likelihood of a rescue at a specific site given daily estimated beachgoer visits. This will allow the Lifesaving Operations team to develop service provision models depending on different beach visitation numbers.
The project will enable LSV to continue to address the increasingly worrying drowning trend in Victoria.