Lifeguards need to stay off their phones at work, Lifesaving Society says
There were 146 'water-related' deaths in Ontario in 2016
The province's lifeguarding experts have a simple message for anyone keeping watch over Toronto's pools and beaches this summer: put your cellphones away.
Perry Smith, the program director at The Ontario Lifesaving Society, says the organization has gotten complaints in the past about distracted lifeguards.
"It's really important for them to be vigilant and pay attention, and make sure they're not accidentally bringing their phones out onto the deck," Smith said on CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Friday.
"It only takes a few seconds for somebody to get into distress, particularly at the beach where there's waves and people get knocked off their balance … Normally, there's more staff within call at the swimming pool, whereas at the beach it's much more difficult."
City policy dictates that any lifeguards working in municipal facilities or waterways cannot use personal cellphones while at work. Aydin Sarrafzadeh, manager of the city's aquatics program, says smartphones are "quite popular" with younger staff.
"Our policy is that all personal electronic devices are to be put away while at work, and that staff may use them while on break, when they're not working," he said.
Whether or not a lifeguard is paying attention can be a life or death issue. The Lifesaving Society's 2019 drowning report shows that 146 people died in a "water-related fatality" in Ontario in 2016, which is the latest year for which data is available.
Of those deaths, 43 per cent happened in a lake or a pond, the report says, compared to 22 per cent in a river, 12 per cent in a pool and 16 per cent in a bathtub.
The vast majority of people who drowned were men, the report says.
Smith says any lifeguards caught using their phones while on duty are usually immediately suspended for an investigation.
"You have to put it away. It has to be out of reach and there can't be a temptation," he said.