Summer is coming and the excitement of the season will be here before you know it. When planning your training meeting consider this
We all know that it’s dangerous to swim without a lifeguard supervising but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that “drowning can happen quickly and quietly anywhere there is water . . . and even in the presence of lifeguards.” Although lifeguards are specially trained and dedicated to safety, they can miss important distress signals. That’s why it’s crucial to know about the Complex Quadriplex of Lifeguard Blindness© (CQLB).
The CQLB was developed by Dr. Tom Griffiths, president and founder of the Aquatic Safety Research Group, LLC. Dr. Griffiths has spent decades researching the safety risks of pools, beaches and other aquatic recreation areas. He’s been the Director of Aquatics and Safety Officer for Athletics at Penn State University for nearly 25 years. He draws on that experience to help pool and spa owners minimize the risk of injury or drowning at their facilities.
Knowing the CQLB helps you appreciate the natural conditions that impair a lifeguard’s effectiveness. You can learn more about this phenomenon and strategies to combat it in Dr. Griffiths’ new video: “CQLB – The Complex Quadriplex of Lifeguard Blindness.”
The CQLB consists of four kinds of lifeguard blindness:
- External distractions
- Internal noise
- Physical body blindness
- Cognitive body blindness
Loud noises, people laughing, funny jokes, or even planes overhead can pull a lifeguard’s attention away from swimmers. They also have to deal with visual distractions, such as people wearing outrageous clothes or kissing couples.
And in our mobile world, texts, emails, and phone calls hijack a lifeguard’s focus. It takes just a few seconds to read a text, but it also takes just a few seconds for someone to drown.
Internal noise refers to the running dialog we all have going through our heads. It’s easy to focus on the thoughts in our minds and tune out the external world, especially if we’re upset, stressed, or worried.
Can you remember a time when you got in the car, got “lost in your thoughts,” and took a wrong turn without noticing? The same thing can happen to lifeguards on duty, and they’ll miss distress signals as easily as you missed the wrong turn.
Physical Body Blindness
A lifeguard’s best tool is visual attention. The first sign of trouble is often a visual clue but in the real world of a pool, beach or spa, it’s not possible to see everything all the time.
Sun can glare off the water making it impossible to see certain areas of the pool. When the area’s crowded, people block other people. If someone goes underwater, the distortion from light refraction and rippling water surface can make it hard to tell if they’re swimming happily or passed out on the pool floor.
Lifeguards do their best to get around these physical blocks, but no one can have a perfect view of the entire area at every moment. The larger the area, the harder it is. In 2014, according to the United States Lifesaving Association, 19 people drowned at a beach with an on-duty lifeguard.
Cognitive Body Blindness
Our brains play a big role in what we notice. Research has shown that our brains selectively “hide” sights and sounds that conflict with our goals and emotions. In other words, a lifeguard’s goal is for everyone to be safe in the pool, so if there’s visual or auditory evidence that someone is not safe, the lifeguard’s brain may actually block it out.
Training and Knowledge
Armed with the knowledge of the CQLB, pool and spa owners can take steps to bolster safety with extra training and support. Lifeguards need to understand their own limits and work continuously to develop good habits, such as the “5 Minute Scanning Strategy.” Managers should also supplement lifeguards with extra supervision at all times.
Dr. Griffiths’ video provides additional explanation of CQLB and offers strategies to limit risk. There are no guarantees, but we can possibly save lives with just a few extra precautions.