What causes a pool lifeguard to overlook a drowning victim even if they are in plain sight?
We watch, time and time again, CCTV footage of a lifeguard or swimmer staring straight at a person in difficulty in the water, but doing nothing about it and just walking or swimming on by.
According to Tom Griffiths from the Aquatic Safety and Research Institute, this behaviour is a phenomenon called the Complex Quadriplex of Lifeguard Blindness.
In his research, Tom describes four factors that, when combined, can leave a lifeguard blinded to a body under the water. He explains that lifeguards around the pool may see the victim, but their brains do not allow them to compute what is happening.
The four contributing factors that every parent and swimmer should be aware of are:
External distractions – it’s called the RID factor which stands for recognition, intrusion and distraction. If a person drowns while a lifeguard is on duty, it is likely due to this…failure to recognise the drowning victim’s instinctive drowning response; secondary duties have intruded on the primary role of pool surveillance (next time you are at the pool, observe what the lifeguard is doing and you’ll quickly understand this point); and lifeguards are distracted from surveillance.
Internal noise – the thoughts and emotions that every human will experience; just like daydreaming or starring into the middle distance. This, according to Tom, is very difficult to manage.
Physical conditions of the pool – these are the conditions that physically disguise a body that is underwater, such as reflection, refraction and the ripple effect.
Cognitive blindness (emotions) – people don’t see what they do not expect or want to see. Lifeguards do not go to work expecting to save a drowning person and as a result are delayed in their response due to disbelief or denial.
Poseidon drowning detection was developed to assist and complement lifeguards, who are after all, only human. Technology provides surveillance at all times across every inch of the pool (above and under the water) and very quickly alerts the lifeguard when a person is drowning.
It is an added layer of protection which is badly needed in public pools here in Australia.
For more information about Tom Griffith’s research visit www.aquaticsafteygroup.com
And to watch a video of a situation in a pool where people and lifeguards do not see a drowning boy, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foZXm4CJDKo