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Stop Life Threatening Risk of Entrapment in Pools

Every year, when thousands of families jet across the world for a holiday they probably don’t realise that they could be putting the lives of their children at risk by swimming in pools that have just a single main drain.

The risk is exemplified by the most recent case of an 11-year-old boy who drowned in a public pool at Terrasson-Lavilledieu this July, whilst holidaying in the Dordogne, France.  The child drowned when his leg became trapped in the powerful suction of the pool’s only main drain.  

Drowning of this kind is known as “entrapment” and is entirely preventable, and only happens because what appears to be a perfectly safe drain is, in fact, a potential death trap. The irony of the case outlined above is the fact that the pool in question had recently undergone refurbishment, without being fitted with a second main drain which would have prevented the child’s death. Alternatively, a vacuum alert device can be fitted. 

Entrapment can occur as a result of faulty outlets, but the primary reason is the lack of two main drains in the bottom of the pool.  When a swimmer gets too close to a single main drain they are pulled onto the drain and become trapped by a tremendous pump suction and it is almost impossible to break.  An American experiment showed that it took 225kgs of weight to release an object trapped on a single drain.  

Entrapment is not new - there have been ‘celebrated’ cases including the death of 7-year-old Graeme Baker, the granddaughter of the former US Secretary of State James Baker.  There are many other cases of children and adults losing their lives when they became trapped by suction in a pool with a single drain. 

The 2012 US Consumer Product Safety Commission report records 106 entrapment accidents between 1999 and 2011.  This includes 12 fatalities and 89 people who suffered hospitalisation.  Bathers escaped unscathed in just four cases. The majority of these entrapments involved under 18-year-olds. Tragic stories are easy to find, for example, 6-year-old Zachery Chon died after being trapped by the arm, 33-year-old John Van Hoy was trapped in a spa at Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort in Nassau, a 14-year-old girl died in Tunisia after jumping into the pool.  The last UK incident occurred in Runnymede several years ago.

The UK and European standards exist to ensure pools are equipped with two main drains, but many operators sidestep this requirement.  In the UK, modern pools built to comply with BSEN 15288 and SPATA standards take into account the need for two drains and where necessary a vacuum alert system fitted. However, many do not install such a system, yet they have been on the market for years.  MSI’s Vac-Alert system responds within a millisecond to any increase in filter pump suction, freeing a trapped swimmer from a life-threatening situation.  The  Vac-Alert system is used by international hotels including Sheraton Hotels and Hilton Hotels. 

Many operators of pools in hotels, holiday parks, and leisure centres shy away from closing a pool for remedial work because it is a major undertaking involving closing and draining the pool, installing the second outlet, refilling the pool, chemical treatment and re-heating the water.  Every private pool owner and commercial pool operator should have an inspection conducted by a pool engineer to ensure their pool is not at risk from entrapment. 

Typically installing a vacuum alert system in a private pool will cost between £1,000-£1,200.  This involves a simple modification to the pipework of the main circulation pump, which takes approximately three hours. A commercial installation will be more detailed due to the increased size of the discharge pipework and would normally involve more than one main circulation pump.  In both cases, the inclusion of such a device is far cheaper than upgrading to an additional main drain and most important, prevents entrapment accidents.

For further information on the Vac-Alert click here Please note that this product will only be sold in the UK to qualified pool engineers with written evidence of their status.


Real Life Incidents of Entrapment

November 2019: Spain - hotel pool - family of three all drowned at the same pool due to entrapment

February 2017: Bulgaria - four-year-old girl is trapped in the outlet of a hot tub at a hotel, sustaining serious injuries requiring surgery

January 2017:  Portugal - woman reported a serious injury to her back when she leaned against a pool wall and was sucked in by a pipe, trapping her and causing serious injury 

December 2016: Spain - Swedish boy aged 18 months sucked into the tube of a pool

November 2016: Brazil- nine-year-old girl drowned at a water slider park when her hair was trapped in the suction by the water slides.

October 2016:  Tunisia - five years after the death of Arnaud Honorez, his mother won the case against the tour operator - the hotel swimming pool did not meet safety standards and Arnaud was trapped under the water when his arm was sucked into the drain at the bottom of the pool

June 2016:  South Africa - Five-year-old boy from the UK becoming trapped in a spa while on holiday abroad

June 2003:  Greece - 12-year-old girl sat on a broken drain grill causing devastating damage to her intestines

December 1966:  Malta - drowning - body found in the morning

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