SAFER - Risk Management Process

Risk Assessment, is an essential component of risk management and a legal requirement of our duties as lifeguards. Dynamic risk assessments must be applied in situations where ad hock activities takes place or where an urgent, or emergency response is required.

For scheduled SLSNZ activities including but not limited to, regional patrols, voluntary club patrols, beach education, club nippers programmes, external events, surf sport events including club, regional of national training and competitions, a comprehensive risk assessment must be applied. SLSNZ’s Operational Risk Assessment forms should be used in all contexts where the activity or duty of the lifeguards is planned or scheduled.

More information on risk management and risk assessment refer to your Club Patrol Operational Manual (POM) and Health and Safety Manual.

The SAFER Risk Management model above provides an easy to remember approach to identifying hazards and risks and consider control measures to fix the problem in order to prevent harm to people. Care must be taken to ensure that all practicable steps are taken to prevent harm to any person involved it the activity or the urgent/emergency response being undertaken.

Evidence that the SAFER Risk Management approach has been applied is necessary at all times. I quick and easy solution is to use the video recording function on your phone. Simply record the environment in which you expect to be active, while providing a verbal commentary about the identified hazards and risks, the control measures (preventative actions) that you have applied to fix the problem/s and what actions you will be taking to monitor and record the results. No paper required. Simply store the file for at least three months.


Risk Management in Practice

Risk Management, is essential to the duties carried out by lifeguards in the many and varied contexts in which we operate. Risk Management is necessary for all scheduled SLSNZ activities which includes but is not limited to, regional patrols, voluntary club patrols, beach education, club nipper’s programmes, external events, surf sport events including club, regional or national competitions and or training. A comprehensive risk assessment must be applied e.g. SLSNZ’s Operational Risk Assessment forms.

Risk assessment, is a component of risk management. Risk Assessments are a legal requirement of our duties as lifeguards. Risk assessments for all planned or scheduled lifeguard activities and duties should use SLSNZ’s Operational Risk Assessment forms. SLSNZ’s SAFER Risk Management approach may be used for situations where dynamic risk assessments are required e.g. ad hock activities, urgent or emergency responses.

More information on risk management and risk assessment can be found in Club Patrol Operational Manual (POM) and Health and Safety Manuals.

Well trained and experienced lifeguards demonstrate effective risk management and risk assessment procedures every day while on patrol. These seven steps are implemented repeatedly throughout patrols across the country and can be summarised in the following way.

Step One

Identify the activity, duty or work to be undertaken. Example - Lifeguards plan to set up and operate a safe flag zone for use by the public, which identifies the work or duty to be undertaken.

Step Two

Identify the people likely to be affected by the work. Example - Lifeguards, identify the people likely to use the flagged zone and the surrounding beach, which includes the Lifeguards. This may include competent swimmers, boogie boarders, surfers, poor swimmers, children, families, first time beach users, all of whom may be affected in different ways by the work of the patrol and their use of the water and beach environment.

Step Three

Identify hazards including environmental, human and objects/equipment. Example - Lifeguards identify hazards including environmental hazards such as rips, currents, and wave height and type, along with potential human hazards such as surfers near the proposed flag zone, or first time beach users, as well as potential ‘man made’ (objects)and equipment hazards such as jet skis on the water, or vehicles on the beach, or the remains of an old disused wharf or jetty.

Step Four

Identify and assess the risks associated with the hazards, which may result in harm to people if preventative actions (controls) are not applied. Example - potential injury to swimmers due to the proximity of surfers, potential drowning of swimmers entering the water fully clothed, or the location and strength of rips. Lifeguards then identify and assess the risks before considering what preventative actions may be applied to manage the risks.

Step Five

Apply preventative actions (controls) to help prevent harm to people. Example - Having assessed the risks, lifeguards make informed decisions about where to locate the flags, i.e. away from surfers and rips, and may also place signs to warn beach users of dangerous currents, and may talk to first time beach users about the safety of swimming between the flags. These are all preventative actions or controls which help prevent harm to those using the beach.

Step Six

Continue to monitor and assess the hazards, risks and control measures for effectiveness. Example - Lifeguards monitor and review steps 1-5 and amend as necessary to prevent harm to people.

Step Seven

Maintain records of the above. Example – Some of the above information may be recorded on the Patrol Captains Form. However SLSNZ is moving towards using SLSNZ’s Operational Risk Assessment Forms while also investigating 

Step Eight

Implement emergency responses where required. Emergency responses are applied where preventative actions have failed, or where hazards and or risks have changed and/or have not been adequately identified and/or assessed. Example – Lifeguards rescue swimmers from a flash rip that suddenly appears adjacent to the flags.

These eight steps are the essence of all that we do as life guards and must be applied to all our duties, not just our duties between the flags. When effective risk management procedures are practiced, particularly effective risk assessment procedures, the health, safety and welfare needs of Surf Lifeguards and others will be met. Make sure that you consider and apply these eight steps to all your duties as a Surf Lifeguard.


Risk Assessment in Practice

Risk Assessment requires you to assess and decide whether a risk is acceptable. This includes the identification of hazards, the assessment of risks related to these hazards, which results in a risk magnitude score of low, moderate, high or unacceptable, and finally the application of preventative actions (controls) to manage or reduce the risk magnitude to acceptable levels.

Your assessment should take into account the following:

  • The degree of control you have over the risk
  • The potential and actual losses which may arise from the risk in the worst case scenario.

Risk Assessment Matrix

The risk assessment matrix below is used to assess the probability and consequences of identified risks, which are then recorded on the Operational Risk Assessment Form.

Risk Magnitude

The risk magnitude is entered into the Risk Score column beside the hazard on the Risk Assessment form. Clearly risks with a magnitude of 11 or higher are not acceptable and controls must be applied. However, risk magnitudes of less than 11 may also not be acceptable depending on the context of the duty e.g. during Beach Education or Nippers Programmes, due the age of participants.

How do we control risk?

We cannot remove or eliminate the hazards that we work with i.e. the prevailing surf, or weather conditions, the rocks at our beaches, we musty instead consider how we chose to interact with these hazards.

Eliminate poor work practices e.g. 1) ban single person over the shoulder IRB motor carries, 2) close beaches if the risks to lifeguards to implement a rescue are too high and not controllable, 3) postpone or cancel a scheduled surf sport event.

Substitute the “she’ll be right” attitude/approach to risk management and health and safety, to a culture where member welfare is paramount, which is supported by effective policies, procedures and practices e.g. provide effective sun protection clothing, including hats and screens for all lifeguard duties where practicable.

Redesign the equipment and practices we use and how we use them e.g. 1) IRB foot strap research and design project, 2) use of RWCs in some contexts, 3) proactively manage expectations of member’s behaviour e.g. sexism/bullying will not be tolerated, and ensure that these expectations are reflected in policies and procedures so that members can be held responsible for their actions.

Educate our members to take a member welfare approach to risk assessment, e.g. 1) poor driver behaviour (speed) is the single greatest contributing factor to crew person injuries – educate members to slow down, 2) plan to support those attending serious events where emotional and psychological harm are likely outcomes.

Encourage members to interact and participate to the level that they feel safe e.g. 1) encourage, enable and support surf sport athletes to say “no” to competing in conditions that they alone feel uncomfortable or unsafe competing in, 2) allow surf lifeguards to limit their participation to their level of comfort/competency. 


Emergency/Incident Management

This section provides an overview of the steps required to safely and effectively manage serious incidents.

Pre-planned responses and training for potential incidents are likely to reduce risks and improve the safety and other outcomes for all those involved e.g. ‘missing competitor at sea’ during a surf sport event – refer pg. 36 of the Competition Safety Manual V3. Clubs are encouraged to consider the likely emergency responses that they may encounter and develop effective emergency response plans and training to optimise their response.

Step 1. Identify and assess the incident

  • Promptly gather relevant incident information, e.g. position, problem, people, progress.
  • Consider the potential response/s.
  • Assess the hazards and risks of harm to people and apply effective control measures.
  • Inform and seek out support from other agencies/personnel as required e.g. Emergency Callout Squad (ECOS), Police and Ambulance etc.

Step 2. Respond to the incident

  • Confirm and implement an appropriate response, ensuring compliance to the Club’s POM and SLSNZ policies and procedures, including risk assessment information.
  • Allocate tasks appropriate to the skills, qualifications, experience and competency of the available personnel.
  • Monitor the response for hazards, risks, and performance and be prepared to adapt, modify or upscale the response if needed and as resources allow.
  • Maintain effective communication with all affected personnel.

Step 3. Conclude operation and administer post incident activities

  • Clean, repair, store and replenish equipment.
  • Undertake an incident debriefing with club or regional support personnel present.
  • Prepare and submit post incident reports to the club, SLSNZ and other agencies as required. Refer to the SLSNZ Incident and Injury Notification Flow Chart for more information.
  • Welfare of team members is monitored and appropriate action taken.


SLSNZ Incident and Injury Notification Flow Chart

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