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1010 SLSA personal protective equipment (PPE) Project – development of the level 25 Lifejacket
  1. Barbara Brighton,
  2. Anthony Bradstreet
  1. Surf Life Saving Australia


Background Surf Lifesavers and Lifeguards operate in an inherently hazardous aquatic environment. Recently, Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) has lost 3 lifesavers in surf sports competition and training, and in the United States there have been 2 lifeguards drown during operational service.

The risk remains that a lifesaver or lifeguard may become incapacitated in the water, become submerged and unable to be located to receive timely medical attention.

The objective of the project was to deliver a specification for a lifejacket that would reliably return an incapacitated individual to the surface but also minimise impacts on performance to a level as low as reasonably possible.

Methods SLSA engaged James Cook University and SAI Global to conduct the assessment process and assist in development of a fit for purpose specification.

The first stage assessed and ruled out the Level 50 International Standard as having excessive buoyancy and adversely impacting exertion levels while conducting tasks such as duck diving. It was then hypothesised that a similarly designed slimline lifejacket with a lower level of buoyancy could feasibly fulfil the objectives.

The second stage assessed a variety of buoyancy aids that were not compliant with any standards. These devices were readily available in the international marketplace as impact vests, surface vests, and competition vests commonly used for individuals engaged in extreme sports such as wakeboarders, big wave surfers and kite boarders.

Results Testing of these non-compliant buoyancy aids indicated poor quality control over the production processes and varying rates of buoyancy that didn’t necessarily correlate to size. This inconsistency correlated to the performance of the devices and their ability to float a person where many devices failed. This raised concerns from a consumer perspective and any perception that these devices may provide sufficient flotation to remain on the surface despite the presence of disclaimers.

Despite the inconsistencies in performance, there was sufficient data collected to inform the development of a fit for purpose specification of low buoyancy lifejackets that could be used in high performance applications. This information has since informed the review and redevelopment of the Australian Standard AS4758 Lifejackets and delivered a new class of lifejacket, the Level 25.

Conclusions SLSA are currently trialling prototypes of these Level 25 Lifejackets to assess their possible use in Surf Life Saving activities to reduce injury and death. The final report includes policy recommendations and the necessary implementation plan.

  • Drowning
  • Lifejackets
  • Water Safety
  • Surf Sports

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