Pool entrapment: understanding and preventing the danger

| January 27, 2014 | 0 Comments

A child in the Philippines barely escaped with his life recently when he became entrapped in the drain pipe of a local swimming pool. What does this news from halfway around the world have to do with you and swimming pool safety? Plenty.

Entrapment is one of the hidden dangers of swimming pools many people aren’t aware of — until it’s too late.

family swimming in a pool

Pool drains can be fatal, particularly to small children, who can become stuck underwater. Image via Michael Coghlan.

To understand why, you need to know the basics of pool and spa circulation. Pool and spa drains are different from those in sinks or bathtubs. Pool drains are actually part of a circulation system that’s driven by a pump to filter and maintain water quality. Water is continually being sucked into the drains and recirculated back into the pool. Swimmers who come in contact with these suction outlets can become entrapped on them, especially if the cover is broken or improperly installed. In some cases a vacuum can form, making it nearly impossible to free the victim.

There are five types of entrapment: body entrapment; limb entrapment, evisceration, mechanical entrapment and hair entrapment. All often lead to drowning.

In the United States, it’s federal law for every public pool to have an anti-entrapment drain cover to prevent such tragedies. The next time you go to you local pool or waterpark, make sure you ask the manager if they comply with this law, known as the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, or VGB.

But while public pools are regulated, private pools are not. Yet a backyard pool poses just as much danger as a public pool when it comes to entrapment. Pools with single main drains are far more dangerous than those with dual drains. That’s because it’s harder to create a vacuum with two drains. Spas, both inground and aboveground are especially deadly since drains and outlets are so much closer to bathers. Be extra careful of physical entrapment in spas. Long hair, for instance, is a common culprit.

The good news is that anti-entrapment drain covers for pools and spas are inexpensive (around $20 to $80) and a pool service technician can easily install them. But they are not the only line of defense against entrapment. Manufactures also make suction release devices. These devices are connected to a pool’s circulation system. When they sense creation of a vacuum they automatically shut down the circulation system, which breaks the vacuum and frees the swimmer. While this extra layer of protection is nice, it’s also costly. Such systems typically go for more than $500.

Ultimately, the issue of entrapment is just one more reason supervision is so important when it comes to water safety.

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Category: Pools, Safety

About the Author

Gary Thill is the former editor of Aquatics International, an award-winning magazine for the commercial pool and waterpark markets. He is a nationally recognized writer and editor with an extensive communications background that includes print, online and social media.

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