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Accidents and personal safety in Hong Kong

Lifeguard shortage forces pool closure at a third of Hong Kong swimming complexes, union survey finds

Workers’ groups urge government to set up training school and enhance image of profession to attract young people

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 7:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 10:31am

A shortage of lifeguards has forced about a third of public swimming complexes in Hong Kong to close their pools for at least 10 days in the past two months, a survey by unions has found.

On Tuesday, two leading workers’ groups, which conducted the poll, urged the government to set up a lifeguard training school to upgrade staff skills and enhance the industry’s image to attract new blood.

Data collected by the Hong Kong and Kowloon Lifeguards Union and the Hong Kong Government Lifeguards General Union found the manpower issue had worsened in the past three years, with the industry’s shortage rate soaring from 6.9 per cent in 2015 to 21.6 per cent in 2017 during the summer peak season.

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The Government Lifeguards General Union has some 600 members, while the Lifeguards Union has about 500.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department manages a total of 44 public swimming pool complexes and 41 public beaches in Hong Kong.

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Presenting the survey results, Lifeguards General Union chairman Anson Tang Tsz-on said out of 37 public swimming complexes surveyed, 14 had their pools closed for as long as 10 days since the peak season for swimmers started in April, because there were not enough lifeguards.

Tang said: “Manpower shortage also means a heavier workload [for employees]. It will not only affect the quality of services but also the safety of swimmers.

“Hiring part-time lifeguards is not addressing the crux of the problem. It deprives full-time lifeguards of job security and results in young people being unwilling to join the grade.”

Hiring part-time lifeguards deprives full-time ones of job security
Anson Tang, union chairman

The two unions asked the government to enhance the professionalism of lifeguards by setting up a lifeguard training school.

Lifeguards Union spokesman Nick Wu Kai-wing said: “A formal training school can also upgrade the quality of lifeguards and enable them to acquire new knowledge.”

The survey also found that out of 522 serving lifeguards, 92.9 per cent supported the set-up of a training school, while 86.8 per cent supported appointing a specialist medical director to draw up standardised first aid guidelines for the profession.

Tang also said they were arranging a meeting with the department to discuss the poll findings and their concerns.

In a statement released later on Tuesday, the department denied it had a problem recruiting lifeguards.

It said it had more than 1,900 lifeguards, of whom 1,276 were full time.

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The department admitted there were times when pools had to be closed because there were not enough lifeguards on duty.

But it argued there were also occasions in which pools were closed for maintenance or because of bad weather.