Review lifeguard hiring practices at private pool operators

Recent cases of rescues by members of the public raise concerns over safety standards

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 July, 2016, 12:35am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 July, 2016, 12:35am

Lifeguards are most often in the news over pay and staffing disputes that close beaches and public swimming pools. That is a matter of inconvenience. But recent headlines are potentially a matter of life and death. Witnesses say that twice last week members of the public had to pull children in difficulties from a residents’ swimming pool at Discovery Bay despite the presence of lifeguards. In one case the rescuer of a five-year-old boy said he had noticed the boy did not move for about 10 seconds under water. The boy was unconscious and a bystander gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation before he was rushed to hospital.

This has raised questions over the competence of lifeguards at private swimming pools in particular, with concerns that some may lack any experience. Lifeguards’ union vice-chairwoman Fung Kam-lan said the government required all lifeguards to obtain a certificate from the Hong Kong Life Saving Society. But years of experience demanded by private employers differed. Some might not require any at all because of a shortage of certified guards. Unlike the government, which tested applicants and placed them with experienced lifeguards to learn how to handle emergencies, many private employers did not have such safeguards.

‘I don’t feel safe’ ... no trust in Discovery Bay lifeguards despite new pool safety measures

Hong Kong Resorts, which owns and operates Discovery Bay, said the residents’ club concerned had strengthened the presence of lifeguards and it had called in the lifeguard contractor to reinforce the importance of safety and operational procedures.

Discovery Bay residents are not convinced, with one father emphasising the duty of parents to keep watch on their children in a busy swimming pool. He has a point. But lifeguards are there for a reason and the government should consider ensuring that private pool operators are diligent about the basic competence of lifeguards, for example by adopting similar hiring and deployment practices. They may complain about the cost and, ultimately, the users of private pools would have to pay. But it would be a small price for peace of mind.