Proper training can prevent pool tragedies
I was horrified by the report headlined, 'Coroner furious at lifeguard over death' (South China Morning Post, April 2), relating the needless and preventable death of a 10-year-old boy at a pool in Tai Po Gardens.
It is bad enough as we approach the new millennium in Hong Kong that there are needless and preventable deaths resulting from monumental blunders and gross incompetence on the part of medical staff in the public health system.
It is tragic beyond belief that young children suffer needless and preventable deaths in Hong Kong swimming pools manned by 'professional' and presumably 'trained' so-called 'lifeguards'.
One of the 'lifeguards' was reported to have said in court that he had not sat in the lifeguard's tall chair beside the pool - which would have given him a clear view of swimmers - because the seat was damp. He also said that he considered his personal comfort more important than the safety of swimmers. What on earth was a person like this doing working as a lifeguard? But more importantly, how on earth was someone like this ever employed to perform such an important task? There is something drastically wrong with a system that will certify somebody like this, let alone allow him to obtain employment in this field. In Australia 'real lifeguards' are often called upon to risk their very lives, not just their comfort, when they have to battle raging surf and mountainous seas to rescue a swimmer in distress.
The other lifeguard at Tai Po was on the opposite side of the pool chatting to another swimmer and failed to notice the struggling child. Lifeguarding is a serious business, life is precious, particularly the life of a child. A pool or a beach is not a social club for lifeguards, it is a potential battleground between life and death. In Australia the motto for lifeguards is 'eternal vigilance' and it must be, otherwise having lifeguards is completely useless and a waste of time and money as has been tragically demonstrated in this case and sadly in many others.
The unfortunate child was eventually pulled from the water not by either of the 'lifeguards' but by a member of the public, who noticed him floating face down. All parents have the right to expect that their child can play safely and not die in a pool which is manned by 'lifeguards'. These so-called lifeguards are paid to save lives and one would assume that they are appropriately trained and fit for the purpose for which they are employed, or are they? Several years ago the Taiwanese Government asked the Australian Surf Life Saving Association for help in an attempt to reduce the unacceptably high death tolls from drownings on Taiwanese beaches. A team of Australian experts and top instructors was sent to Taiwan to help train Taiwanese lifeguards.
Consequently within a short space of time a dramatic reduction occurred in these preventable and needless deaths.
I strongly suggest that the Hong Kong Government seriously considers adopting a similar course so as to ensure that not only prospective lifeguards but also current lifeguards, are properly and adequately trained and certified for the very important task for which they are paid and so that they fully appreciate that being a lifeguard is not just 'a job for young men to sit in the sun and enjoy themselves', as the coroner so aptly put it.
Perhaps then other parents would be spared the anguish and heartbreak of future preventable tragedies.
PETER LAVAC Central