As ILS President, Mr Ford heads an organisation which represents 130 countries and has 30 million lifesaving members worldwide.
Speaking to The Phuket News at the World Conference on Drowning Prevention held in Durban, South Africa, earlier this month, Mr Ford explained that the role of professional lifeguards encompassed more than most people appreciated.
“For Phuket lifeguards, it is not just about sitting on the beach, they have to be proactive,” he said.
“Real lifeguards, professional lifeguards, are always looking over the water to see what is going on. They must scan all the time. They must make sure no one is in trouble – and if any are, go rescue them.
“Further, they need international lifeguard training and to be certified. This is because they must be trained in a variety of skills, including administering CPR, among others,” he added.
Mr Ford, who was already aware of Phuket’s current lifeguard situation, also pointed out that making sure tourists know where to swim safely was vital.
“You must have clear messages for tourists to know where it is safe to swim. You must make sure they understand the safety messages presented to them,” he said.
“In aircraft flying into the country they should have some messages for tourists about where to actually swim where it is safe. I think that is a very important safety message that needs to happen,’ he added.
Mr Ford, who last year was re-elected for a fifth two-year term as President Elected Director of Surf Life Saving Australia, pointed out that Phuket in particular needed the government to make having international-standard lifeguards on the beaches a priority.
“The government must make this a priority, lifeguards must be on duty at tourist hotspots. Tourists need lifeguards,” he said plainly.
“Governments and local authorities, they need the will, they need to have laws in place to mandate that in tourist spots they have lifeguard services,” he added.
“Then we have to ensure those lifeguards have competency and skill required to be an international lifeguard so they can actually look after the beach and do the rescue. Lifeguards also need to continual retraining to maintain their skills.
“And then on the ground, we need to have education for local communities, particularly with our youth with learn to swim programmes and also for the community a simple thing like a CPR programme. A CPR programme is not just for the water. It is a simple skill that we can all learn. It is not difficult to do,” he said.
Mr Ford’s understanding of the need to cater to the safety of tourists is well founded. His career in surf lifesaving administration began at Bronte Surf Life Saving Club in Sydney in 1986 when he took up the position as Chairman of the Nippers, young surf lifesavers aged between 5 and 14 years.
Bronte Beach is the next beach south of world-famous Bondi Beach.
Further, in honour of Mr Ford’s unwavering dedication service to surf lifesaving, he has also been awarded the Order of Australia (AM).
Also speaking to The Phuket News at the World Conference on Drowning Prevention held in South Africa, Justin Scarr, the chair of the ILS Drowning Prevention Commission, pointed out the vital role of fostering a community-driven awareness of surf safety.
“Life-saving training is important to provide in Phuket province, but building up a drowning prevention group by local people and making public information available in several local areas are also crucial,” he said.
“It is not only drowning at the beach but also it can happen at swimming pools in hotels or homes and at lakes," he added.
More than 200 presenters from 50 nations took part in the World Conference on Drowning Prevention in South Africa. The conference has brought together the world’s foremost experts, researchers and policy-makers in drowning prevention, rescue, lifesaving and water safety to exchange, debate and review the latest progress on preventing drowning.
Thailand was given clear prominence at the conference following confirmation in August that the country is still “number one” for child drowning deaths among Asean countries, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) notes that the rate of drownings in Thailand is twice as high as the world’s average.
In a report released by the National Institute for Child and Family Development (NICFD) in March, it was revealed that between the years 2000 to 2018, there were more than 22,700 drownings involving children under 15 in Thailand, an average of 1,262 children per year or a shocking five kids per day.
At the highest point, drowning caused about 56% of child deaths, followed by road accidents at 25% and falling from heights at 8%.
The number of drownings is reportedly highest during school summer breaks. The 12-day Songkran school holidays from April 12-23 is the deadliest period for such accidents.
The World Conference on Drowning Prevention came as the latest WHO estimates report 320,000 people dying from drowning worldwide each year.
Drowning is among the 10 leading causes of death for children and young people in every region of the world. Over half of all drowning deaths are among those aged under 25 years.
The Phuket News Chief Reporter Tanyaluk Sakoot was one of only 10 journalists selected worldwide to attend the World Conference on Drowning Prevention (WCDP2019) through a Reporting Fellowship generously provided by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) to empower journalists.