Commonsense often leads us to believe that more is better. In the aquatics industry, it seems axiomatic (because it is commensense!) that having more than one lifeguard present to watch over children is going to improve safety. The reasoning is that having two or more lifeguards increases the number of eyes watching your children. According to this theory, two or more lifeguards will increase the chances of detecting a child who is in trouble. Unfortunately, this assumption can create dangerous situations. It has been my experience that a "diffusion of responsibility" can occur when two or more lifeguards are assigned to watch children in a swimming pool. This phenomenon is well-documented in the social psychological literature. Too often lifeguards will assume that "the other guy" is diligently watching the pool or that "the other guy" will back up a lifeguard who is day dreaming,distracted by conversation with a pretty girl or listening to his iPod. In situations of diffusion of responsibility, lifeguards often assume that since the blame for a drowning or incident will be shared or diffused among other "watchers," then they are not as individually responsible; hence, they are not as diligent as they should be. As an expert I have consulted on many tragic cases where a child has literally drowned while being surrounded by seemingly well-trained and experienced lifeguards.
In my next posting I will talk about ways to eliminate this dangerous phenomenon.