As of last year, there were around 2,400 licensed swimming pools in Singapore, up from 1,900 in 2012, according to National Environment Agency (NEA) figures. However, many do not have lifeguards on duty.
A joint study by the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Singapore Civil Defence Force has found that lifeguards were not present in seven out of 10 drowning and near-drowning cases that happened between 2012 and 2014.
NEA issues licences to all pools that the public has access to, including those at condominiums, hotels and private clubs. However, swimming pools in private homes do not fall under these regulations.
The study also found that seven out of 10 drowning and near-drowning cases occurred at private pools, and, in most instances, lifeguards were not on duty. Four out of the 10 victims in all cases involved children under 10 years old.
The researchers included all cases where injuries occurred due to the person being submerged, regardless of whether the person subsequently died.
Figures from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital show there were 104 drowning and near- drowning accidents between 2011 and 2015.
“Lifeguards should be hired for pools with a high volume of swimmers,” said Dr Joanna Chan, who is a senior resident at SGH’s emergency medicine department.
Pools without lifeguards should consider training security officers or other personnel in emergency resuscitation techniques, she added.
Those in the industry cite low pay, lack of career prospects and a poor professional image as key reasons why people are reluctant to join.
Around 500 people qualify for the Singapore Life Saving Society’s bronze medallion exam each year, said Mr Richard Tan, who is the society’s president.
This is the minimum qualification to work as a lifeguard.
“(But) many people may qualify merely to work part-time or on a temporary basis,” he said.
“The pay and employment benefits package of lifeguards, in relation to other occupations, may not be attractive enough.”
Lifeguards are typically paid between $1,500 and $2,000 a month.
In addition, the lack of career prospects discourages some.
Mr Patrick Lee, who was a lifeguard for 14 years, said: “The furthest you can go is maybe a senior lifeguard in an organisation.”
Mr Lee now runs Lifeguard Singapore, which offers life-saving and swimming courses. He added that the public’s impression of lifeguards is that they have an easy job, which does not help their professional image. “In other countries, lifeguards are seen as professionals. In the pool, they are the authority.”
One lifeguard – Sentosa beach patrol officer Muhammad Adli Jainulabudin – enjoys his job and said it suits his love of the outdoors. “The key thing is to always stay vigilant and keep a watchful eye out for potential dangers, before they turn into a hazard,” he said.
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