Exhibitor Press Releases

Research informs critical changes to the UK and Ireland's most popular pool lifeguard qualification

Research informs critical changes to the UK and Ireland's most popular pool lifeguard qualification

RLSS UK is committed to working with research experts and academics to ensure their pool lifeguard qualification – the National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ) remains fit for purpose for the leisure industry, and lifeguards are trained with the right skills and knowledge to carry out their role and keep swimming pool users safe.

RLSS UK has a strong working relationship with the University of Chichester and has carried out various projects since 2015. Over the past five years, research has focused on the effectiveness of methods for scanning and supervision and the impact of training and intervention.

Research has prompted two changes to the way in which RLSS UK recommends lifeguards scan a zone and the period in which they do this. Swimming pool operators should consider adopting two critical changes:

  • A new system for supervising pools (Natural Scan: 20)
  • Lifeguard rotation and duration on poolside

A new system for supervising pools (Natural Scan: 20)

The 10:20 system of bather supervision (or 10:20 protection standard, as known by its creator - Ellis & Associates), has been within the NPLQ for over 30 years. RLSS UK wanted to examine its effectiveness and commissioned a research project to learn more.

Research process

To examine the effectiveness of 10:20, RLSS UK and the University of Chichester compared lifeguards in two conditions. Condition one was the 10 second scanning strategy, and condition two was a natural scan strategy.

To assess the impact of the two conditions, we developed two 30 minute videos in a swimming pool, and during each video, several scripted and unscripted hazards occurred. The same scripted hazards occurred in both videos but occurred at different time points in the video. The two videos were subjected to evaluation by six water safety experts (M age = 36, SD = 4.65 years), each possessing extensive lifeguarding experience (M experience = 97, SD = 87.01 months). These experts collectively reviewed both videos and achieved consensus regarding the identification of hazards and the corresponding timestamps. Video one contained 35 identified hazards, and video two had 45 identified hazards.

The videos were presented 88 cm away from the lifeguards on a 366 x 229 cm screen, back projected by a high definition (4K) SAMSUNG widescreen 16:9 projector. This set-up ensured that lifeguards would move their heads a minimum of 30° left and right to capture the front corners of the pool in the outer position of their central vision, as would happen in a 22-meter pool if a lifeguard was stood 1 m from the edge. While watching the videos, the lifeguards wore a mobile eye tracking system (Tobii Pro Glasses 2).

In the 10 second scanning condition, lifeguards were instructed to “Use the 10:20 system of supervision from your lifeguard qualification. Ensure that you supervise the whole zone. Scan the zone every 10 seconds whilst supervising the pool”.

In the natural scan condition, lifeguards were told, “While you were taught the 10:20 system of supervision during your lifeguard qualification, we have no evidence that this instruction is better than others. You must ensure that you supervise the whole zone and scan it using a natural scan method that feels comfortable to you whilst supervising the pool. Ensure that you supervise the whole zone.”

In both conditions, lifeguards were told, “If you spot a hazard, please respond with a whistle blow and say out loud the location and the hazard before immediately continuing your scanning strategy”. The conditions and videos were counterbalanced to avoid any order effects. Participants were unaware of the number of hazards occurring throughout the tasks.

Before watching each video, the lifeguards filled in the Immediate Anxiety Measurement Scale (IAMS; Thomas, Hanton & Jones, 2002) to measure anxiety, and after watching it, they filled in the NASA-Task Load Index (Hart & Staveland, 1998) to measure mental demand.

In both conditions, the marked zone was split into three areas of interest (grid squares, meaning lifeguards had to move their heads 15 degrees to focus on the middle of the grid. Then, they could use their central 30-degree vision to spot any hazards occurring in the bottom corners of the zone.


The results demonstrated that there was no significant difference in the percentage of hazards detected in the 10-second scan strategy condition compared to the natural scan condition. However, the results show that lifeguards were unable to execute the 10 second scanning strategy (i.e., scanning the full zone every 10 seconds). This is demonstrated by the percentage of the zone fixated (scanned) in the first, middle and final 10 second segments (of the 30 minute videos) being between 36% and 57% rather than 100%, as would be expected by the 10 second strategy. Five percent of lifeguards fixated in all three large grid squares in the first 10 seconds, 3% fixated in all three large grid squares in the middle 10 seconds, and none fixated in all three grid squares in the final 10 seconds, showing the challenges with performing and maintaining a 10 second scan strategy. Therefore, whilst results show that hazard detection is similar in both conditions, lifeguards were not adhering to the 10 second scan. Thus, comparisons between the 10 second scan and natural scanning are not possible. The key conclusion from this study is that it is not possible for lifeguards to scan the full zone every 10 seconds, despite explicit instructions to do so. Thus the 10 second scanning rule should not be advocated as an effective scanning strategy.

Instead, the findings show that asking lifeguards to adopt natural scanning results in similar hazard detection capability, enhanced pool coverage, and lower perceived mental demand. The increase in pool coverage did not lead to enhanced hazard detection in this study but may provide increased opportunities to detect hazards in other areas of the zone, which is not available when using the 10 second strategy. In addition, the reduction in perceived demand may help alleviate the vigilance decrement associated with prolonged hazard detection tasks. Whilst hazard detection ability is a key metric for lifeguards, any strategies that reduce perceived demand and enhance pool coverage should be considered, especially when compared with a strategy that appears unachievable.


Due to the results, RLSS UK has replaced 10:20 with the System for Supervising Swimming Pools (Natural Scan: 20) within the NPLQ. This gives lifeguards the best opportunity to supervise a swimming pool/zone and identify hazards.

New content:

Lifeguards must continuously scan the pool and/or zone they are responsible for.
Pool operators must ensure lifeguards can get to any area within their zone within 20 seconds. 

As the content suggests, lifeguards must continuously scan the zone they are responsible for, using their preferred scanning pattern tailored to the pool users, hazards, and risks.

The pool operator element remains unchanged, and pool operators are still responsible for ensuring that where they position lifeguards, the lifeguards can get to any pool user in any area of their zone within 20 seconds.

HSG 179 – Managing Safety in Swimming Pool

The Health and Safety Executive publication, HSG179 Managing Safety in Swimming Pool, includes guidance for swimming pool operators. The guidance includes a reference to the 10:20 system of bather supervision, which RLSS UK has now replaced with the System for Supervising Pools (Natural Scan: 20).

To support operators, RLSS UK has contacted The Health and Safety Executive to inform them of the research, results, and changes within the NPLQ. The HSE gave the following statement:

“HSE supports attempts to improve safety in swimming pools and HSG 179 does not prevent the implementation of new developments that are known to reduce risk.  HSE is aware of the proposed change to the RLSS UK training programme for lifeguards. The link to the RLSS UK website provided in HSG179 allows people to access the latest information.”

The HSE will be communicating the changes made by RLSS UK to all Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) and Health and Safety Inspectors.

Lifeguard rotation and duration on poolside

New research has also given RLSS UK an even better understanding of hazard detection and the maximum time a lifeguard should remain in a position before their performance declines.

Research process

The research was conducted by the University of Chichester and the RLSS UK and documented ‘drowning’ detection over a one-hour period. 30 participants took part in the study. 10 were considered experienced (M lifeguard employment = 111.8, SD = 62.8 months), 10 were considered novice (M lifeguard employment = 2.1, SD = 0.88 months), and the remainder had no lifeguarding experience (n = 10).

All participants watched bobbing along animations which are lifeguard specific drowning detection tools. Nine bobbing along animations were produced for this study. For each, the environment was divided into 16 navigation meshes with one, two, or three animated bathers per mesh, depending on the task condition. Animated bathers moved (‘swam’) within the mesh in a randomised fashion. Upon the event of a ‘drown’, the pre-established ‘bather’ trod water and began drowning (i.e., gradually submerging) over a specified period (10, 30 & 90 seconds) every 5 minutes. Once the bather had submerged entirely, they re-emerged after 10 seconds and continued their randomised swim pattern. After watching each animation, they filled in the NASA-Task Load Index (Hart & Staveland, 1998) to measure perceived workload.


The data showed that detections significantly decreased over time (see Figure 1) for the experienced, novice and naïve groups. This process is termed vigilance decrement.

Figure 1: The influence of experience and time on drowning detection performance (with SE bars). Drown events occurred every five minutes (e.g., 1 = 5 minutes, 2 = 10 minutes etc.).

After 30 minutes, the mean detection rate across all 9 animations was less than 50% for all groups. Therefore, it is suggested that lifeguards do not undertake pool observation from one location for more than 30 minutes, if possible. Whilst the presence of a vigilance decrement may be unavoidable after prolonged periods, findings do highlight an advantage held by those with greater experience.


As the results indicated that, after 30 minutes, lifeguards detected fewer hazards, it was important to change guidance within the RLSS UK National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ).

RLSS UK has therefore amended the NPLQ to reflect this and the following wording now appears in the NPLQ Gen 10:

To help lifeguards remain alert and to maintain a good level of supervision at all times, RLSS UK recommends that: 

  • Lifeguards rotate positions every 15, 20 or 30 minutes and spend no more than 30 minutes in one static position.
  • Lifeguards spend no longer than 60 minutes at the poolside, and in exceptional circumstances, no longer than 90 minutes in the pool hall itself. 

In addition, through research, RLSS UK has also found common behaviours that lifeguards should look for when scanning; these are also included within the new NPLQ Gen 10.