Editorial note: The following is a submitted letter to the Editor in response to a recently-published article entitled “Opinion: Learner-to-lifeguard pipeline springs leaks, putting pool safety and accessibility at risk” (Thursday, Jul. 27, 2023). The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.
I am writing in response to the opinion piece, Learner-to-lifeguard pipeline springs leaks, putting pool safety and accessibility at risk, published on July 27. Author Janette Leroux has raised a very serious issue with long-term implications.
I add my voice to those calling for increasing access to training for lifeguards, following the COVID-related gap in training.
The title of the article, however, implies that there may be increased risks in pool safety, which is not accurate. If there are fewer lifeguards, there is less access to lifeguarded pools or other areas – so fewer programs but not fewer lifeguards in the programs that are offered. Fewer lifeguards and instructors equal fewer programs, not lowered safety standards. Lifeguard training and safety standards are legislated, which all operators must follow.
According to the Lifesaving Society’s 2020 National Drowning Report, 70 per cent of all drowning deaths occur in lakes, ponds, rivers and oceans. Fewer than one per cent take place in a lifeguarded area. In children under the age of five, 92 per cent of drowning deaths occur due to absent or distracted supervision. In general, the causes of swimming-related drowning deaths are almost evenly split among: being a weak swimmer, swimming alone, or where alcohol was involved.
The issue of safety is a real one, but rests in individuals knowing how to swim and be safe around water.
And this is where the safety issue rests – the inadequate number of lifeguards and instructors stopping organizations like the YMCA from offering enough swimming and safety programs to meet community need.
The YMCA has taken steps to help address the lifeguard and instructor shortage.
- We advocated to lower the age for lifeguards and instructors to 15 and are happy that the government has done so.
- Locally, we have offered more advanced programs to train up more lifeguards and instructors.
- The YMCA of Eastern Ontario also offers a “lifeguard and instructor scholarship” to offset the costs of training.
- We seek out partnerships that could advance work in this area.
As Ms. Leroux writes, many organizations are stepping up to address a problematic situation, but it requires a broader approach if we are to ensure the next generation of swimmers and those who understand how to be safe around water.
CEO, YMCA of Eastern Ontario