x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

UAE lifeguard rules should be unified, says public safety head

A single system to certify and regulate lifeguard training would help to improve standards and save lives across the country, according to the head of public safety at Dubai Municipality .

A lifeguard watches beachgoers at Jumeirah Beach Residences beach.
A lifeguard watches beachgoers at Jumeirah Beach Residences beach.

DUBAI // A single system to certify and regulate lifeguard training would help to improve standards and save lives across the country, according to the head of public safety at Dubai Municipality .

Under the current system individual emirates have their own rules governing training and follow differing protocols, which can lead to lifeguards working at hotels and patrolling beaches having varying levels of skill.

But Redha Salman said one unified system for the entire country would solve the problem.

"It would be very beneficial to have a unified system because it would reduce the number of ambiguities we have at the moment," he said. "It is definitely something we could look at doing."

There are an estimated 1,500 lifeguards working in Dubai at hotels, beaches and water parks.

Hotels and apartment blocks follow safety guidelines based on American, British, Australian or South African procedures with each emirate having its own certification rules.

Experts say a single system would be clearer to follow. "It would make things a lot more straightforward in terms of knowing that everyone is the same," said Patrick Antaki, general manager of Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort in Fujairah.

"What you tend to find is that the standard of lifeguard training is perhaps not as good in some of the small hotels and apartment blocks outside of the big cities."

Mr Antaki, who was speaking at the launch of the seventh annual National Lifeguard Championship yesterday, added that larger hotel groups have pushed up the quality of training in the past 10 years.

The week-long training process for lifeguards covers first-aid techniques, psychology on how to deal with people in different situations as well as physical ability.

"After the initial week they are tested and examined by an independent examiner," said Bojan Kalodjera, recreation manager at Le Royal Meridien in Dubai.

"At the moment there are a few different protocols for lifeguarding used. This includes the Royal Life Saving Society in the UK and the American Red Cross," he said.

The differences are minor and Mr Kalodjera expects one official international standard to emerge over the next few years.

"Having one UAE body or authority for the overall regulation of lifeguard standards would be ideal.

"One licensing authority for everyone will make it more streamlined, and that way everyone would know what is required."

So far this year nine people have drowned off the coasts of Sharjah and Ajman, prompting calls by residents for more watchtowers and increased lifeguard patrols.

In April an Arab man drowned off the beach in Ajman. Three weeks later a Russian tourist also drowned.

On July 6, two Arabs and an Asian drowned in rough weather off Ajman corniche.

At the beginning of September there were also drownings off Al Mamzar and Hamriya beaches in Sharjah that claimed the lives of Nepalese and Ghanaian men.

A nine-year-old British boy drowned in Al Mamzar on August 29 and an Egyptian died four days earlier at Al Khan beach.

The Dubai Accreditation Centre regulates the qualification of new lifeguards by making sure their training meets the required level for their particular system.

"Dubai Municipality takes on the policing role," said Mr Salman.

"We have inspectors checking hotel pools and beaches on an ongoing basis, and we also investigate complaints from the public. From the municipality point of view, if a hotel or location is not following the rules, we have the power to fine or even close a premises."

The National Lifeguard Championship competition takes place on December 16 at Le Meridien Al Aqah and will feature 20 teams of lifeguards from hotels across the country.

nhanif@thenational.ae