According to experts, a lifeguard shortage could affect one-third of all public pools in the United States. According to the American Lifeguard Association, chronic staffing shortages are leading numerous swimming pools around the country to reduce operating hours and, in some cases, close earlier this swim season.
There are shortages in almost every aspect of swimming pool management, so why should lifeguards be any different? The country's labor shortages may be felt everywhere, from convenience stores to restaurants to your local community swimming pool.
With a major heat wave engulfing much of the country, public pools closing due to lifeguard shortages couldn't come at a worse time. It's a problem that doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon.
What is the source of the lifeguard shortage?
Here are the main considerations. The first is that in the early stages of the epidemic, lifeguard certification classes were suspended, preventing new lifeguards from being trained and those who already held certification from renewing it. Second, when pools were closed, many lifeguards sought better-paying jobs and eventually decided not to return to work. It has taken a long time to fill these open posts.
Finally, international work permits such as J-1 have been suspended as of June 2020 in order to protect the public's health during the epidemic. For the past 20 years, many lifeguard posts in the United States have been filled by young individuals with J-1 visas, according to Bernard J. Fisher, director of health and safety for the American Lifeguard Association.
What is being done in the midst of the lifeguard shortage?
A handful of options being implemented include limiting the amount of time a pool is open and asking swimming teachers to function as lifeguards. Half of Raleigh, North Carolina's eight public pools are closed, and those that are open have shorter hours. Many more will just close sooner this summer. In the goal of attracting more applicants, the Raleigh City Council recently approved hiking the hourly compensation for lifeguards from $9.25 to $13.
The New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, which controls the city's parks and pools, raised lifeguard pay to $15.91 per hour from just under $12 per hour the previous year, but the approach failed. Only five of the city's 13 seasonal pools will be open this summer.
Private companies are so anxious for labor that they have begun to give incentives and raise hourly wages. Six Flags St. Louis lifeguards can earn up to $18 per hour, plus a $500 annual bonus.
The Shortage of Lifeguards Is Not Limited to Pools
According to some safety experts, if pools are closed, families would go swimming somewhere else, such as rivers or lakes without lifeguards. Due to persistent staffing concerns, the scenario is becoming a public health crisis for recreational water areas such as public beaches, which are also prone to early closures or going without lifeguards.
“It’s the worst we’ve ever seen it,” said Bernard J. Fisher II, director of health and safety at the American Lifeguard Association. “People are still going to swim, and drownings are going to spike like they did last year,” said Fisher.
“So many times, groups think that someone else is watching, but in fact, no one’s watching,” Fisher said. He stated that it is especially crucial this summer to keep an eye on children and anyone who isn't a strong swimmer right now. Fisher told news outlets that families and organizations should choose a "water watcher," whose job it is to monitor the pool area and ensure everyone's safety.
Many institutions that are still operational have had to stop swim classes and place their teachers as lifeguards, aggravating the issue of training new workers. “If we don’t keep training new lifeguards all summer, it’s going to be a long time before we get out of this,” Mr. Fisher said.