View Full Version : Concussion, pool management and lifeguard responsibilities

February 3rd, 2013, 02:05 PM
For the past sixteen months, I have lived in a town where there is only one swimming pool option-- the local YMCA. I have the typical complaints about this (warm water, crowded lanes), but recently my chief complaint has become the unsafe environment. Just over a week ago, I ended up with a concussion after someone swam into me head-to-head. While this occurred, the lifeguard was chatting with another employee. The accident occurred when a known "problem swimmer" informed my lane-mate that he needed to start circle swimming. An inexperienced swimmer, he began to do so immediately, but without my knowing. After the collision, I called out the lifeguard on not doing anything, and was asked what I expected her to do (in the event she had actually been paying attention). I said, "blow your whistle!" To which she responded, "no one listens when I do that."

I later spoke with the lifeguard manager, who said the same thing. Additionally the manager claims that guards have tried to talk to the problem swimmer in the past, but she will not listen to them. I have seen this woman intentionally swim into people rather than inform them she is getting in their lane. When asked what the repercussions to her would be, should she continue to ignore the lifeguards, I was told "well we can't kick anyone out of the Y."

I have had numerous other incidents in the past. For example, the lifeguard once allowed someone to tread water in the middle of a lane with four circle swimmers. Another time I slammed into a man's rear end coming out of a flip turn. (I have no idea why/how he was there.) And on a daily basis, there is zero oversight to how people join lanes, meaning you never know when someone (who is inevitably nowhere near your pace) will appear in your lane.

As I lay on my couch recuperating, I contemplate if anything will ever change. It is frustrating to know that if the lifeguard had done something, I would not currently have recurring headaches, sensitivity to light, and difficulties with my equilibrium. Hopefully, my symptoms will improve in the near future but I cannot help but think my concussion was avoidable.

My questions are: what are realistic expectations of a lifeguard? To whom are they accountable? Who is responsible for teaching swim etiquette? Who is responsible for keeping swimmers safe? Who is responsible for organizing compatible circle swimming lanes? Do people really not respond to blowing a whistle?

If this were an isolated event, I would probably be more forgiving. But the fact is that the lifeguards are frequently socializing, drinking coffee, or staring off. I thought their responsibility was the safety of the swimmers?

I look forward to swimming again once I am symptom-free, but I do have some lingering reservations. I would also like to use this incident as a wake-up call to the YMCA management, but am not sure how to do so. (Or am I being too quixotic?) I filled out accident and incident report forms after the event, but there has been no follow-up. I would love to find a new pool, but there aren't any options so I am stuck.

Any thoughts or suggestions?

February 3rd, 2013, 02:14 PM
I have similar issues when I swim at the Y during general lap swim sessions. I'm always on the lookout for those rogue swimmers who end up in your lane without a notice. People tend to notice me and know that I'm more advanced that 99% of them at my YMCA pool...thus they try to get into the other lane. But there are a few exceptions. I don't mind sharing/splitting a lane with anyone, regardless of their skill level. I know they're out there for basically the same reason as me...to get some swimming exercise done. Problem is when the 3rd (or 4th) person joins the lane. Depending on who it is, or what they're all doing, I get frustrated too. I have to basically drop what I was doing, and either go to a kick set with board so I can visually see where people are, or get out entirely. When I first get there, I typically get right into my main set, so I don't have to screw around wasting time with a long drawn out warmup. If I'm moving at a pretty good pace, and not stopping a lot, people tend to avoid me altogether.
I'm planning to get in a swim later today at the Y prior to the big game. Hopefully no one else has the same idea.

February 3rd, 2013, 02:58 PM
It sounds to me like there is a real problem at this pool. A concussion is no joke. The idea that a "problem swimmer" is just allowed to run amok because it's too hard to change is disturbing.

I found an online version of the Red Cross Lifeguard Supervisor training manual (http://www.redcross.org/images/MEDIA_CustomProductCatalog/m3240080_LifeguardManagement.pdf) which says this:

The primary responsibility of a lifeguard is to ensure patron safety and protect lives—including their own. The most important duty the lifeguard has in meeting that responsibility is patron surveillance—keeping a close watch over people in the facility.

Lifeguards can also help to protect patrons by:
- Preventing injuries by minimizing or eliminating hazardous situations or behaviors.
- Enforcing facility rules and regulations and educating patrons about them.
- Recognizing and responding quickly and effectively to all emergencies.

It sounds like you have tried to talk to the lifeguard manager without success. I would try going the next level up with your concerns regarding the matter.

February 3rd, 2013, 04:45 PM
Ekw, the Red Cross excerpt is interesting and potentially useful, thank you. I was just at the Y for some doctor-approved stationary biking and got the name of the lifeguard manager's supervisor. Hopefully I can have a conversation with her in the near future.

Allen Stark
February 3rd, 2013, 05:46 PM
This is an amazing disaster.The LifeGuards don't have control because they aren't trying.What are the requirements to lifeguard there? Who is responsible?Who is legally responsible?The life guards must have the right to kick someone out of the pool or at least give them a timeout.The lifeguards think they have no authority so they don't.I think you have a pretty good lawsuit for negligence(but I'm not a lawyer.)I doubt you want to sue,but it might help if they knew how liable they were.

February 3rd, 2013, 07:01 PM
Well, after writing my earlier post, I did in fact go to the Y to swim this afternoon. During the swim, the next lane over got 3 people in it, and of course, two of them understood what circle swimming was. Well, the (approximately) 70+ year old lady who was lap swimming since the lanes opened at 1:00, was the one who didn't understand too well. She and another younger guy collided heads together...nothing too serious today, but it could have been. I noticed it happening, as did my lanemates as we were on the wall at the time. The two guards on deck had no idea anything had happened. They were more concerned with the 1/2 of the pool with public swim in it..."cause that's the bigger potential for danger". Whatever. Every person in the water has to be protected, no matter what they're doing.
I asked the head guard about the circle swimming 'non-policy' when there is 3 or more per lane, and she said they're working on it. (I'm actually good friends with her so had no problem asking). She went into the office and got the paper that had already been written up, and showed it to me. They were just waiting for the language on it to get APPROVED by the YMCA first. One part on it that I liked was something like: "if you don't feel like circle swimming when 3 or more swimmers are in the lap lanes, then you need to get out of the lap lanes." :D But the biggest part of having the policy, is also enforcing it, and getting people to understand to somewhat organize themselves by ability level.

February 3rd, 2013, 07:40 PM
This is really horrible -- I hope you get better soon. I have had some problems at my YMHA with someone (an adult) who insists on jumping into the lap lane in the deep end when I am swimming by. She didn't hit me but she came pretty close. I found that the Executive Director and the Chief of Operations of the Y here are very sensitive to safety/liability issues even if the pool people always aren't. I would bet (and hope) that if you went to the leadership of your Y, above the lifeguard manager, and they learned that a swimmer had had a concussion during lap swimming, things would change. I am also not a lawyer but I agree with Allen, this environment is just a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Get better soon!

February 4th, 2013, 08:56 AM
We had a similar problem with a swimmer who swam very aggressively and refused to listen to anyone - coach or swimmer. Several injuries were caused through carelessness/ thoughtlessness/bloodymindedness

It was stopped when the club received a letter from a concerned swimmer, to check they had properly advised insurers of the various "incidents" involving this one swimmer, since of course if there wasnt full disclosure then the club insurance might well be invalidated and refuse to pay out on a future claim caused by said individual, and the club personnel might find themselves personally liable .......... all such behaviour was immediately stopped ... and then the swimmer went away......

February 4th, 2013, 03:41 PM
I give you credit for taking up the cause. I gave up swimming at Y's years ago. It was like beating your head against a fortified brick wall. Set your outcome expectations very low and then you might be happy with the results.

February 4th, 2013, 03:54 PM
I can't figure out why people have so much trouble w the concept of circle swimming. I mean... even when i started swimming again after a 25 year layoff logic told me to stay to the right if someone else was in the lane. I mean it just makes sense. Apparently its lost on some people. The only people who ever ask me if that's how we are going to do it are either coaches who are doing lessons for a kid or well... that's about it.
Some guy the other day looked at me crazy when i said why don't we circle swim... I think one of the rules at usms is to always circle... its just like dirving a car... stay to the right...

February 4th, 2013, 04:57 PM
I can't figure out why people have so much trouble w the concept of circle swimming. I mean... even when i started swimming again after a 25 year layoff logic told me to stay to the right if someone else was in the lane. I mean it just makes sense.

Not necessarily. If there are only two people in a lane some people would prefer to split the lane. Especially when the two people are doing completely different workout or are swimming at very different speeds. When three people are in the lane it is obvious that circle swimming is a must, but sometimes that third person gets in and starts swimming before the other two know about their presence.

As far as the lifeguards' responsibilities, my opinion is they need to intervene when it's a matter of safety. People colliding in the middle of the pool definitely qualifies. On the other hand I don't think it's the lifeguards' job to settle many of the squabbles that occur during lap swimming.

February 7th, 2013, 08:52 PM
I think that part of the problem is that there the rules of the road are often unspoken, or understood only by experienced swimmers. At my pool the rules are to split the lane with two swimmers, circle swim with three plus, be verbally acknowledged before entering a lane with another swimmer and tap a swimmer on the foot if you wish to pass at which point they should then yield to you at the turn.

Real solid set of rules in my opinion but to find them you need to be on the website, there is nothing poolside so it leaves the people that do not know in the dark.

I think that rules and a bold sign explaining those rules is a good start.

That may be asking a bit much, while we are in hypothetical land I would suggest a policy requiring a cleansing shower before entering the pool and that if you leave a band-aid in the water you should have to swallow it, but we all have our pet peeves.

February 9th, 2013, 09:06 AM
I had a nearly identical experience some years ago. I was the first in the lane, shortly afterwards joined by a woman who insisted on splitting. She didn't bother to tell me a third swimmer had joined, even when he suggested it, and I had a head-on collision with him. The lifeguards actually blamed me for "not keeping your head up and looking forward when you're swimming". I didn't swim at that pool again for several years, and then only when nothing else was available. And now I'm very nervous about splitting and tend to circle even when I'm alone in the lane, just to indicate to anyone joining that that's what I'd prefer to do.
Hope you get better soon. Mentioning liability and insurance sounds like a good idea.

February 9th, 2013, 09:27 AM
I wish you well and would like to make a few points:
1. I suffered a non swimming related concussion about 20 months ago. The symptoms disappear gradually but if you are swimming again you are doing just fine.
2. I reiterate what others have stated: I am not a lawyer but it seems to me that you have a libel case, if you care to pursue it. However, it will probably take years and lots of your precise time on this earth.
3. I have never had problems with lifeguards but I have often thought what a thankless job it is. Although boring and monotonous it is also with great responsibility. The job becomes harder when there are no penalties for outrageous behavior. At our pool everybody signs an agreement that includes a conduct code and penalties for misbehavior. Perhaps you could suggest this at your Y.

February 9th, 2013, 05:42 PM
I haven't been back in the pool yet, but hope to go for a short swim tomorrow. My headache seems to be gone, but I fatigue easily and have some lingering eyesight problems. When I wear glasses, my vision seems OK, but wearing contacts is disorienting. I am not sure if this is typical, but I hope it cures itself quickly.

Regarding the Y, I am not eager to pursue a legal battle, but I do wish they would get their act together! I sent a polite but firm email informing them of my injury and requesting that they evaluate the safety of the pool and the training of their guards and pool staff/management. In the brief response I got back, they said their insurance would be in touch (I think regarding the medical bills) and that they would work on educating their member on "lap lane etiquette." This doesn't seem like a thorough solution to me-- unless the guards pay attention and enforce things, I don't foresee any major changes occurring. I am nervous to get back in such an unsafe environment.

February 12th, 2013, 10:52 PM
I'm really sorry to hear about your injury, and I definitely hope you recover quickly.

Speaking as a lifeguard and an active swimmer, it's a hard situation to be in. Lifeguards ultimate responsibility is patron safety in all forms, but it's true that people often don't listen to lifeguards after repeated attempts to talk to them. People often don't see the point of lifeguards because it's usually a younger person seen as "Just sitting there." I've had people tell me to my face I wasn't good for anything more then getting a tan...as I was filling out the paperwork after pulling out her friends struggling child from the water.

If the lifeguards really have tried to talk to this person and nothing has happened, your best bet is to confront this person directly or go straight to YMCA management. The Red Cross only trains the lifeguards, they have no authority after that.

As someone also mentioned, experienced swimmers often take "unspoken rules" , like circle swimming, for granted. The average person who only swims occasionally will not know. That's the responsibility of lifeguards and the facility to make sure patrons know what's going on. However, small squabbles that happen amongst people regarding these, especially amongst adults, can hopefully be dealt with without the involvement of lifeguards.

I really hope you can resolve this to your satisfaction. I hate to see people get hurt, and I hate to hear about lifeguards slacking. We have enough of a stigma as it is.

February 14th, 2013, 03:30 PM
Ouch!!!!! I hope you're better soon.
I used to swim at a pool where the lap lanes were marked slow (no consistant pace), medium (1:30-2:00 per 50), and fast(less than a minute per 50). At least you had a slight chance of having more than a floater in your lane if you were trying to do an interval workout. This also forced people who had no idea of what was going on to go talk to a lifeguard and be advised on where to swim.
Where I swim now the lanes are open to whomever wants to jump in. A couple weeks ago I was doing a faster sprint type workout and the girl I was sharing with was a college swimmer home on break getting a good workout in (fast!). A man jumped in with us and said we'd have to circle swim. I actually stood up to him and asked him to join another lane that was also lap swimming instead of forcing us to abandon our workouts and slowly swim laps while dodging him. Needless to say he got cocky and told me he could swim in any lane he wanted. I agreed with him but tried to explain that the slow swimmer hi-jacks the whole lane and forces the others to have to go slow and wait for opportunities to pass. He really didn't care so college girl and I spent the next 20 minutes tickling his feet and having miserable swims. Finally college girl and I decided to join forces and make him miserable; we started doing 25 Fly Sprints with arms as wide as possible followed by 50's with big paddles. I'm really not sure if his workout was over or if he was just tired of eating our waves but he finally left the pool and hasn't come close to my lane since. I'm not cocky enough to think I always deserve a whole half a lane for myself, but I really wish people would scan the pool and find a lane they could fit into without disrupting the flow. I have 3 or 4 friends I usually swim with at this pool; we swim with all 4 of us in the same lane and do the same workout. I wish others were considerate in this way too.

February 20th, 2013, 11:19 AM
I worked at a Y as a lifeguard when I was in my 20s, and we had a very obnoxious and unsafe lap swimmer. I tried to remove him from the pool, and management would not back me. I had to throw a kickboard at him one night when we were closing because he would not stop no matter what I did. I believe the other swimmers applauded me.