Lifeguards who text on the job, turning their eyes to their cellphones instead of the pools and beaches they are supposed to be watching, are drawing more and more complaints, The New York Times reports.
“Lives are being endangered, if not already lost, because of text messaging,” said Bernard J. Fisher II, the director of health and safety at the American Lifeguard Association.
Fisher said he heard several dozen complaints about the practice this summer, versus none two years ago.
Texting lifeguards already have been cited as a factor in swimming tragedies. Last summer, a 45-year-old Illinois man drowned at a beach where the guard was texting, according to witnesses deposed in a civil suit. Two years ago in Ireland, a 10-year-old boy drowned in a pool guarded by a young man who admitted at a public hearing that he had been texting.
Some lifeguards, many of of whom are college-age students, have difficulty resisting the temptation to text friends while on the job.
“It kind of takes my breath away, but younger people have the capacity and the expectation to be able to communicate all the time,” Paul Atchley, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, told the Times. “I don’t think it’s compulsion to multitask as much as it is a compulsion to belong,” he added.
At some pools and beaches, officials are taking steps to head off the problem. For example, last year the Y.M.C.A. of Greater New York, in its monthly training sessions, began requiring lifeguards to acknowledge in writing that they can be fired for carrying electronic devices. Since then, no guards have been found violating the policy.