WAVERLEY Council has provided lifeguards with around-the-clock access to on-site intoxication testing after an internal report found they were at extreme risk of being effected by drugs and alcohol while on duty.
It was one of 52 key risks identified in a 2015 draft internal report — recently released under Freedom of Information laws — associated with lifeguard operations at Bondi, Tamarama and Bronte beaches.
The Lifeguard Service Risk Profile identified ocean, beach, rock and management risks following interviews with dozens of Waverley Council lifeguards, industry experts and other key stakeholders over three years.
The document was commissioned by Waverley Council and prepared by chief risk adviser Paul Chivers to review and update the 2007 Lifeguard Operations Manual in 2013.
It also looked through important documents, hundreds of emails and comments from surveys about local lifeguard operations.
The 2015 draft document identified: “Council has been aware of intoxicated and drug-affected lifeguards for several years currently in workplace performing duties.”
Other risks — many noted as “extreme” — outlined in the report included:
● Inadequate knowledge of surfing etiquette due to the number of inexperienced board riders, increasing the likelihood of incidents in the water.
● Large ocean surf crafts being used by inexperienced people in crowded areas.
● Ineffective signage and flags used to control board riders, resulting in breaches of council policy.
● Increase in marine activity at all beaches in the past two years, with more sightings of sharks, seals and whales.
● Difficulty in controlling non-flagged areas at Bondi because there are many points of entry along the shoreline.
● Inadequate and inconsistent aquatic surf zoning resulting in breaches by members of the public, increasing the risk of collision and subsequent injury or death.
● Ineffective control measures for preventing members of the public from swimming into rips.
● Board hire companies supplying hard boards to inexperienced people.
● The limited swimming ability of people entering the water, increasing the risk of critical injury.
● The distance from the Bondi Beach lifeguard tower to north and south ends, where the majority of rescues occur.
An updated version of the document in July last year said the council had implemented a number of controls to minimise the risks and some of the risks were not in the next report.
For each risk, the report outlined existing “controls” and rated its effectiveness from not effective to very effective.
The council implemented a “specific lifeguard drug and alcohol procedure, including 24/7 access to on-site intoxication testing”, which the report noted as a “work in progress” and “reasonably effective”.
The council also reportedly reinforced with lifeguards their work health and safety responsibilities in identifying their colleagues.
A council spokeswoman yesterday said there had been no incident reports of lifeguards reporting for duty under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“Council has a drug and alcohol policy which applies to all council staff,” the spokeswoman said.
“As part of their annual intensive induction program, lifeguards receive drug and alcohol training, and are required to adhere to council’s policy.”
The spokeswoman said the safety of beach visitors and lifeguards was of “the utmost importance for council”.
“It’s fundamental (that) we are aware of all potential risks to safety so that council can mitigate these risks as far as is reasonably practicable,” she said.
“Council has rostered additional staff on our beaches and works closely with Bondi and North Bondi surf clubs to monitor Bondi Beach. Council has also extended the lifeguard service on Bronte Beach to be year-round.”
The latest version of the risk profile said the council had worked closely with a number of stakeholders, such as surf lifesavers and rangers, to make the beach safe.
Solutions included surf etiquette signage at Bondi and Bronte.
“Lifeguards make regular PA announcements advising on board riders clearance from flags,” the 2016 report also said.
“Lifeguards (are) stationed at flags when priorities allow. Lifeguards (are) on patrol monitoring inexperienced people entering the water.”
Despite the precautions mentioned, the Wentworth Courier witnessed a number of board riders between the flags at the weekend, both on foam boards and fibre glass boards.
Foam boards are allowed close to the flagged area but not inside.
Photos obtained from residents have also shown dozens of board riders in the water between the flags on several occasions.
The council spokeswoman said the council tried to balance “competing objectives” from beachgoers as best it could with the resources it had.
Lifeguard Service Risk Profile
■ The risk profile is a “dynamic document” that is regularly updated as risks and controls change.
■ It was prepared by Chief Risk Adviser Paul Chivers and commissioned by Waverley Council in 2012.
■ The 2016 report says it identified 44 key risks, eight less than in 2015.
■ It is understood a more recent version is being compiled.
■ The report was released under Freedom of Information laws in November last year.
This piece by Shaya Laughlin was originally seen on ‘The Daily Telegraph’ March 21, 2017.