Mental health boost for Waverley Council lifeguards

22 February 2021

Waverley Council lifeguards are reaping the benefits of a training program aimed at managing the psychological demands of the job.

With the assistance of Bruce Hopkins, Lifeguard team leader, Council enlisted Allan Sparkes, a former NSW Police officer and former Deputy Commissioner for NSW Mental Health Commission, and Dr David Said, a medical expert with 22 years’ clinical experience with the military to deliver a bespoke mental health training program aimed specifically at people who work in frontline emergency settings.

Matt du Plessis, Manager, Lifeguard Services and Beach Safety said the insights provided by Allan Sparkes and Dr David Said (pictured) were invaluable to the team.

Mr Hopkins said lifeguards deal with critical often unpredictable incidents that put their emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing to the test.

“As first responders at our beaches, our lifeguards are trained in how to manage critical incidents such as major trauma from an operational perspective but this latest training gives them the added tools they need in how to deal with these situations from a psychological aspect including when they leave work for the day,” Mr Hopkins said.

Bruce Hopkins, Lifeguard team leader, helped initiate the training which is helping support the mental health and wellbeing of his colleagues.

Matt du Plessis, Manager, Lifeguard Services and Beach Safety, Waverley Council, said taking care of one’s mental health and learning how to deal with emergencies emotionally is just as important as the physical training Waverley lifeguards undertake.

“When the crowds leave at the end of the day, it’s our lifeguards who are left to mentally unpack any incidents that may have occurred at our beaches,” Mr du Plessis said.

The training is delivered in three phases, with the first phase focused on preparing for critical incidents and proactive approaches to high levels of physiological health. Topics covered in this first phase included:

  • Psychoeducation on the impact of potentially traumatic events on personnel who are regularly exposed through their work
  • Understanding of the impact of cumulative stress on the body and brain
  • Identifying preventative and adaptive coping strategies for exposure to stressful events in the workplace, and
  • Operationalisation of how to use these strategies, in both a preventative and reactive manner.

“The focus for the second phase was post critical incident responses, both acute and chronic. This identified potential psychological and physical responses and trained staff how to manage these side effects. In a nutshell: how to better cope with the event they’ve just experienced,” Mr du Plessis said.

Phase three provides ongoing support to the lifeguards with all staff required to conduct an annual check-in with Dr Said, which will take place next month.

“This ‘check in’ is to ensure the lifeguard team is maintaining the heightened state of being operational ready throughout the year. This phase is really important as everyone’s reaction to trauma can be different and we want to ensure our staff are supported.”

Mayor of Waverley, Paula Masselos, said the training program forms a critical part of Council’s response to emergencies at our three beaches Bondi, Bronte and Tamarama.

“The aim of this training is to arm our lifeguards with the tools and resources to manage and reduce chronic stress and build resilience for their psychological health and wellbeing,” Mayor Masselos said.

“That’s why it’s really important that people follow the advice of lifeguards at all times and adhere to all safety warnings as well as current Public Health Orders and health advice. They are working very hard to keep you safe.”

When visiting our beaches, please always remember to:

  • Always swim between the red and yellow flags, never swim outside them
  • Do not swim directly after a meal or if under the influence of alcohol
  • Only swim when the red and yellow flags are flying. If there are no flags, the beach is closed or unpatrolled
  • Do not panic if caught in a current or undertow. Raise one arm into the air to signal for lifeguard assistance. Float until help arrives
  • Do not struggle if seized with a cramp. Raise your arm for help and float. Keep the part of your body that is cramping perfectly still
  • Do not swim if unsure of surf conditions. Always seek the advice of a lifeguard or lifesaver
  • Follow Public Health Orders and relevant health advice at all times

If you witness an in-water emergency, please inform our Council Lifeguards, or if it is after hours, dial Triple Zero (000) and ask for the Police. Our current lifeguard patrol hours are 6am to 7pm at Waverley’s three beaches. 


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