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How can Lifeguards Stay Safe During Summer?

May 10, 2021

Lifeguards have a job that can appear easy, but it is actually quite demanding. Whether guarding a pool, lake, or the ocean, lifeguards must be aware of the status of all swimmers under their watch at all times. They must remain seated or essentially stationary throughout each shift while keeping constant focused attention on a group of people. Additionally, the sun is beating down on them all day, and they have little time for rest breaks.

A lifeguard must be disciplined and vigilant about taking adequate precautions to stay safe. The following list contains important safety tips that lifeguards should practice regularly in order to prevent a work accident and workplace injury.

Protection Against the Sun

Lifeguards usually work wearing just bathing suits, and they expose most of their skin to the sun. Limited exposure is helpful in maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D, which is a necessary nutrient. However, solar radiation also causes exposure to dangerous ultraviolet (UV) light. Too much exposure can cause serious problems, including first-degree and second-degree burn injuries. Long-term exposure to harmful UV light can cause skin cancer.

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection is a scientific research non-profit that works with the World Health Organization (WHO) to evaluate hazards of non-ionizing radiation (NIR) and recommend standards. They have set a standard of effective UV light over an eight-hour period for sensitive, unprotected skin. Most lifeguards experience exposure far greater than this standard.

Lifeguards must protect their skin from the UV radiation with a combination of shaded workstations and use of sunscreen on exposed skin. Sunscreen varies in its strength in filtering out UV rays and its resistance to water. Sunscreen only works if it is used properly. Most types and brands need to be reapplied at least every few hours to be protective. Lifeguards need to use a sufficiently strong water-resistant sunscreen and apply it regularly during the day to avoid injury to the skin.

Eyes are also susceptible to damage from solar radiation. Wearing sunglasses with adequate UV filtration properties is very important. Short-term effects of overexposure of the eye to UV light can cause photokeratitis, which is painful and causes eye discomfort, excessive tearing, and extreme sensitivity to light. This is usually a temporary condition. Extended periods of unprotected exposure can cause delayed permanent damage to the eyes, including cataracts, eye cancer, pterygium, or macular degeneration, most of which can impair vision or cause blindness. The longer eyes are exposed, the greater the risk of developing these conditions. Combining a brimmed hat with protective sunglasses is best.

Protection Against Heat Stress

Solar radiation also risks heat stress from the environmental factors of temperature, humidity, and radiant heat. To maintain a steady internal temperature, the body transfers heat from the core to the skin by increasing circulation of blood to the skin and by sweating. If it is too humid, then sweating will not work to alleviate heat stress. A careful balance is needed to keep a lifeguard from suffering from various forms of heat stress.

Heat exhaustion can occur if a lifeguard sweats to regulate core temperature.  This is not a serious condition, but it can inhibit the lifeguard’s ability to focus.  Symptoms can include sweatiness, giddiness, lightheadedness, nausea, and pale or flushed skin. To remedy the condition, go to a cooler place and rehydrate with water and electrolytes. Rehydrating with a lot of water alone is not adequate and can result in heat cramps. These painful muscle spasms require rebalancing of electrolytes, such as drinking an electrolyte solution.

A more serious problem caused by working in excessive temperatures is heat stroke. This relatively uncommon condition involves the body losing the ability to regulate core temperature and can be fatal. Symptoms include high body temperature, mental confusion that may progress to fainting or seizures, and skin that is red or bluish. To remedy the condition, remove one to a cool area, administer cool compresses over the body, and fan the body to reduce temperature as soon as possible.

Maintain Physical Condition

The most important part of the job of a lifeguard is to quickly respond to a swimmer in distress. Physical conditioning is essential for this task to be done efficiently and safely. The exertion required is to get to the swimmer, maintain the swimmer’s head above water, get them to dry land, and administer necessary first aid, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). These actions require the lifeguard be adequately trained in lifesaving techniques and be in good enough physical condition to perform them safely. The job is exponentially more difficult when multiple victims need assistance at one time because of a riptide.

Always be Focused

Lifeguards need to carefully balance physical conditioning and rest. Being out of condition can be dangerous as it impairs the ability to perform successful rescue operations. Being too tired from excessive conditioning combined with full-time work in the sun can be equally dangerous. The ability to focus is impaired by being tired. Getting adequate rest is vital to a lifeguard.

Protection from Dangerous Chemicals and Biohazards

Some lifeguards must maintain pool water quality, which requires regular testing of the water and administering necessary water treatment chemicals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the most common pool injuries is exposure to these chemicals, which include chlorine, pool brighteners, and ozone. Inadequate ventilation or lack of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) increases the risk of overexposure, which can cause burns to the throat, lungs, skin, or cause dermatitis.

Lifeguards can be exposed to a series of biohazards, such as urine, feces, vomit, or blood from people, as well as protozoa, fungus, or bacteria in the water. In natural settings, such as lakes, it is also possible to be bit by water snakes, fish, or turtles.

Workers’ Compensation is Available to Seasonal Workers

If a lifeguard gets injured at work, they are likely entitled to file a claim for Workers’ Compensation under certain conditions. Seasonal workers can receive benefits for reasonable medical expenses and a portion of lost wages due to missed work during the season. If the employee cannot work while recovering, then they can receive temporary total disability (TTD) benefits. If the worker becomes permanently disabled due to the injury and it negatively impacts their ability to earn a living, then they might be able to receive permanent disability benefits.

The amount of TTD paid to seasonal workers will vary between in-season and off-season. In-season benefits will be paid for the duration of the season. The off-season rate will be determined based on a number of factors, such as age, education, and skill. For help with a claim, it is important to retain a lawyer.

Vineland Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at DiTomaso Law Represent Injured Lifeguards and Other Seasonal Employees

Lifeguards face many hazards at work, and severe injuries can occur. If you work as a lifeguard and are considering filing a Workers’ Compensation claim, contact an experienced Vineland Workers’ Compensation lawyer at DiTomaso Law. Call us at 856-414-0010 or complete our online form to schedule a free consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Mt. Holly, Camden County, and Vineland.

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