Self-Regulate Or Be Badly Regulated

Are you ready to be successful? I hope so, because if I am successful, all of you will see a drastic increase in demand for your services and products. I’ve been challenging the reality in water safety and drowning prevention that most organizations are relying on volunteers instead of decently-paid professionals. 

I’ve talked about how poorly lifeguards are paid relative to other public safety professionals. I’ve even talked about how we need to create a campaign to raise the sort of funding that could put the issue of drowning firmly on the global stage. But what happens when all this changes? What happens when drowning prevention and water safety become as big an issue as malaria, AIDS and breast cancer? Success. Funding. Demand for products and services. Salaries that match your expertise and professionalism. And regulation.

Regulation is not a bad thing, when it’s done well. Regulation implies legitimacy, a field that is worthy of professional standards. Professional standards evoke visions by the public of extensive training, of professions and products worthy of respect and decent compensation. Look at who has done it best - firefighters and police but especially doctors and lawyers. They have created nationwide standards of behavior, of care, and in some cases international standards. They have banded together loosely to make their professions stronger as a whole than as individuals. But most important, they did it before it was done to them. 

I know that standards exist in some countries - for pools, for lifeguards, for products - but I still see regular threads of conversations across social media which tell me that an enormous amount of work still needs to be done in all countries. I’ll bet any one of you could name a law or regulation that you think is stupid - that is reactionary instead of being well thought through. Not just for our field, but in any number of areas. The trick is to get in there first. Set your own standards, and be able to defend them with research - whether it is on lifeguard training, pool fencing, flotation devices, what a product can be expected to do, and what it cannot be expected to do. And then self-regulate and crack down on organizations, individuals or products which are not acting within the professional standards. And share your knowledge with our colleagues in countries where the field is in its infancy so that they can grow and mature more efficiently.

The other positive about regulation is that it can provide some legal protection for the inevitable lawsuits. When we are clear about the role of a lifeguard or about what a product should or should not be able to do, and we can back it up by professional consensus, academic studies and science, then we have legal defense against frivolous lawsuits. A great start is continuing to move forward on consistent messaging and language, for instance, incorporating the International Open Water Safety Guidelines into your messaging. 

The time is coming that drowning prevention and water safety will have much greater public visibility, I strongly urge our profession to strengthen their efforts to develop standards before those who know nothing of the field set standards for us. Self-regulate and enjoy the professional and financial results or be regulated and live with unrealistic laws, standards and unpleasant consequences.

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