Lifeguards are perceived as the premier drowning prevention strategy and expected to recognize and respond to patrons in distress before injury occurs. However, according to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2000 to 2008, 140 fatalities occurred at swimming pools with lifeguards on duty.
Though tragic, these results represent only about 50% of fatalities at lifeguarded pools during that time. (2001 Baullinger, et al.; 1992 Rainey, et al.; 2009 Barss, et al. cited Pelletier, et al. 2011, p. 252) Further, it is estimated that for every drowning death of a child less than 15 years old, there are four non-fatal submersion incidents, two of which result in release from emergency departments and two more that require hospitalization. (2004 CDC MMWR cited Pelletier, et al. 2011 p. 252)
When drownings occur with lifeguards on duty, lifeguards are often accused of being negligent and blamed for the tragedy. But, based on scientific studies conducted during the past four years, lifeguards are frequently positioned where drowning victims cannot be identified while at the surface or on the pool bottom.