A Week in the Life
Perhaps unconventionally, the snapshot of work that you’re going to experience begins at 10pm on a Tuesday evening. A major transport hub for business, commodities and people alike, Dubai International Airport never seems to slow down. We are on our way to Thailand, though due to the nature of the trip I can’t do the typical Instagram post or Facebook check in. Vana Nava, Thailand’s award-winning waterpark, is going to receive its safety audit and this means total confidentiality.
The Ellis & Associates ILTP audit program was the first of its kind and one of the major ways we push the industry standard. For many, certification stops the moment candidates receive a certificate – but with E&A, operating as a Training Center or a Comprehensive Aquatic Risk Management Client means that you adhere to ensuring in service training and a higher commitment to refreshing the skills and knowledge of your teams. Once SST have certified your lifeguard instructors, you are free to run your own training sessions – avoiding the need of involving a 3rd party for training, waiting for public schedules to roll around or navigating the operational nightmare of losing your team for days at a time. Spiderman teaches you that “with great power, comes great responsibility”, and this is where the audit program comes in: we have to retain a form of quality control over the delivery of our programs and the agreed implementation of our standards.
Even our competitors have to agree that E&A’s/SST’s standards are high, and our now worldwide reputation is deeply rooted in our people not merely adopting, but believing in those standards. The audit program can be annual in some cases, but is much more effective as a quarterly, unannounced visit from an E&A auditor to your facility. From scanning a pool to the supervisors correcting and coaching, auditors spend time observing the good (and let’s be honest, the bad and the ugly). All observations are recorded, so that you as the operator can review real time footage which is then handed over to you for your own training, coaching and records. After informing operational heads that we are in the facility, we move forward to skills check, where your teams demonstrate their ability to handle an emergency – again, all recorded to give you more learning material. Right down to your facility paperwork, we look at all aspects of the operation to help you maintain the safety of your guests.
After a delayed flight out, we land behind schedule into Bangkok airport and now face a 3-hour drive in the rush hour to Hua Hin. Being an overnight flight, we do have Wednesday afternoon/evening ahead of the audit; but we’re not headed for the bars and beaches. Auditing is only a part of my role, so as soon as check in is done, I’m back online to deal with any emails that have come in, but our main focus is the pre-audit paperwork we need to do. Using custom built software, we prepare the outline of what we’re going to observe and ensure we are all ready to go. Having only had a power nap on the plane, it is good to get under a hot shower before wandering the local area for some authentic Thai dinner. Settling back to the hotel, I’m amused to find that Baywatch is on the TV, a perfect if unrealistic indulgence to end the day.
The sun rises early on Thursday morning; after a short run and breakfast, we’re ready to head up to the waterpark. As any other guest would do, we purchase a ticket (no special access is arranged) and then the audit really begins. From various locations in the park, wave pools, to catch pools, to the lazy river, the number of visual observations we take depends on the size of your facility. The lucky guards we observe will be discreetly videotaped for 10 minutes and graded according to your audit criteria. Auditors love to swap hints and tricks for getting observations – from hiding in the bushes to being in the park restaurant, our intention is never to catch guards out, but to give the facility a true representation of what is happening.
Once the observations are done, we head to the changing room and change into our regular SST/E&A polo shirt. Those moments as you walk through the park to find the supervisor team start the whisper – “Ellis is here” – mixed in with smiles, a hint of panic and excitement. The management team at Vana Nava comprises Lois, Bos and Fai and we discuss the next part of the audit which is the skills test out. Bos and Fai, as Thai nationals, are working entirely in a second language and believe me, their English beats my Thai! We organize the Timmy doll, who many of you know and love, and set out to the lazy river for an OMD, or Operational Manikin Drop, part of our VAT, or Vigilance Awareness Testing. The objective here is to ensure that the lifeguard is sufficiently attentive to recognize a guest in distress in accordance to the 10/20 protection standard. As expected, the lifeguard passes, and we move to another part of the park to repeat the process but this time using Bos as a “live” stimulus. We again have a passing standard, so we move forward to the skills test out. Simulating different emergency situations, the purpose here is ensuring the facility as a whole can demonstrate their emergency action plan without preparing for it beforehand. Almost everyone gets a thrill out of watching teams pull together in skill tests, but this goes 10-fold when working in another language. Seeing ILTP skills flawlessly executed in Thai is a testament not only to the team at Vana Nava but also the program as a whole. Finishing up the skills, we then set paperwork audit for Friday morning. Believe it or not, we now sit at 7pm in the evening so when Lois suggests her favorite Thai restaurant for dinner, it’s an easy decision to make!
Up early on the Friday, we have to check out of the hotel before going to the park. Paperwork takes a short time to complete, but we also sit and review the tapes; identifying any areas for improvement as well as celebrating some excellent guarding. Sometimes, audits show improvement in guards that once were a concern or highlight positions that need to be reviewed but whatever it shows, we are here to support the facility and its successful, safe operation. Though I don’t want to, after sharing the Audit Swag, I have to say goodbye to the team in Thailand and hop back into the taxi for a 3-hour drive to Bangkok.
Back into the airport, it feels like yesterday that we arrived while we check the departure boards for our next destination, Sydney. Again, no social media check in because we need to protect the audit integrity. Fast becoming one of my favorite places to visit, whilst I am looking forward to being Down Under, I know that I still have a lot to do. Hopping online (thank goodness for free airport Wi-Fi!) we upload Vana Nava’s audit report to their client manager, check in on the emails from work and start to prep the audit paperwork for Wet ’n’ Wild Sydney. We are at the mercy of flight schedules, and this means that upon landing in Sydney on Saturday morning, we go straight over to the waterpark to start auditing; so the more we can get done before even arriving in Australia the easier it will all be. Timing works well and as we finish everything we can do, it is time to board and get in the air.
Landing again behind schedule, and on considerably less sleep than hoped for, after collecting the hire car, the first plan is just to grab a large, strong coffee before repeating the entire audit process again on a tight timeframe. The rain has not put off the crowds at the waterpark, so we still go ahead and take the visuals but arrange to do the skills and VATs on Sunday morning. Sydney breaks out sunshine and blue skies for skills, and in our review with management we learn that some of our visual observations are of guards who are only 2-3 days old in their role as well as a new supervisor in training – a newly promoted guard that we observed in last quarter’s audit! Any business is constantly growing, changing and evolving, and it is incredibly rewarding to see the career progression of passionate, aquatic safety professionals.
Wrapping up with Wet ’n’ Wild Sydney just after lunch effectively concludes the audit trip. However, we have 24 hours til the flight back to Dubai and it seems a shame to waste the afternoon, so another coffee down and over to Darling Harbour to see the opera house and bridge before flying on Monday. Tuesday, very early hours, land us back to Dubai and home for a shower, (another) coffee and back out to the office for getting back to work – achieving in 7 days: 3 flights and countries, 2 audits, 24 observations, 5 VATs and too many cups of coffee!
Emma Jane Robb