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How to Prevent Deaths from Pool & Spa Entrapment

The alarming number of media reports on entrapment accidents highlights that many pools and spas are unsafe and that management and lifeguards at many holiday resorts and hotels are not trained to avoid entrapment risks. 

There are hundreds of thousands of pools installed at hotels and holiday resorts across continental Europe that may not conform to the correct safety standards, often because they are very old pools and do not have the prerequisite two main drains at the bottom of the pool. Pools with a single drain, incorrectly, poorly-fitted or faulty parts pose grave dangers, as does the lack of understanding of the risk to life if a swimmer gets trapped in a drain.  

There are potential hazards in using any pool and the busier a pool, the more vulnerable it can be to accidents. Pool operators must exercise full responsibility and enforce rigorous safety measures to guard against accidents including entrapment. This includes regular testing of the pool structure and the water chemistry through to the provision of experienced lifeguards who are trained to deal with all types of incidents promptly.  

In this article, we look more closely at what entrapment is, why it happens and safety steps that must be taken to prevent entrapment in pools and spas.

What is entrapment?

Given the very real and present danger of entrapment, it should be high on the agenda of every hotel, holiday villa and water park, and a priority for tour operators who sell holidays to clients where a pool and spa is part of the offering.  Yet, there appears to be limited knowledge about the subject within the leisure industry. Put simply entrapment is when part of the body (stomach, bottom, arm, leg, hair, you name it) becomes trapped in the powerful suction of a pool’s only drain. This is not a risk that a swimmer can see and thus can take care to avoid.

How does entrapment occur?

Whilst entrapment can occur because of a damaged outlet in a pool or spa,  the root cause is the lack of two drains – a known and solvable problem.  A single drain can create intense pump suction as the water system is regulated. Getting too close to a single main drain leaves bathers at risk of being dragged into this vacuum which is almost impossible to break free of without the pool system being turned off, and that can take far too long.  Studies have shown that it can take 225kg of weight to release an object trapped on a single drain. Sadly these incidents are continuing to result in people drowning or sustaining terrible physical problems such as disembowelment – and children are seemingly at greatest risk of such incidents.  

How can the Tourism industry help?

Pools and spas in all hotels, holiday accommodation, and water parks need to be regularly inspected to ensure that they are safe and should undergo specific entrapment risk assessments. In fact, we believe that tour and hotel operators could play a vital role in safety improvements by requiring the operators of the holiday accommodation to submit regular reports on their pool safety checks. Wider knowledge and acceptance of the problem amongst the hotel and travel industry will lead to preventative action that will save lives. Not only will a greater focus on entrapment protect holidaymakers, it will ensure that the industry is not faced with lawsuits.

How do things stack up in the UK?

UK regulatory standards (BSEN 15288 and SPATA) are already in place to ensure that all new pools are equipped with two main drains, as this reduces the demands that circulating water places on a single drain. This means drains or other ‘suction points’ can accommodate 100% of the flow rate of water if the other fails.  It is also recommended that pool operators install a failsafe system; a vacuum alert system, which responds instantaneously to any uptick in pump suction by opening the pipe to atmosphere, freeing the trapped person.  

Industry Health & Safety Guidelines

The Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group (PWTAG) provides guidelines on entrapment safety.  Inlets and outlets, grilles and covers should be designed in accordance with BS EN 13451-3. They should be inspected visually every day, and once a month they should be subjected to closer examination for obstruction, impact damage and vandalism and make sure that they are correctly in place. If they are damaged or missing, swimming should be suspended immediately. 

  • Inlets: in water less than 800mm in depth and in sensitive areas (steps, teaching points, beside base inlets, etc.) the velocity of the water entering the pool should not exceed 0.5m/sec. In other areas, the velocity of the water entering the pool should not exceed 2.0m/sec. 

  • Outlets can cause entrapment and therefore have the capacity for serious harm. PWTAG guidance is that all pools should be tested to show that outlets comply with BS EN 13451-3.  Newly completed pools should have this certification when built. Where this is not the case, pool outlets should be tested by a competent authority to show that they comply.  Outlets should also be tested for hair entrapment. 

  • Pool outlets should be designed and installed so as to reduce the potential for entrapment of the user. As a general requirement, water speed through the outlet grilles should be ≤0.5m/sec. 

  • Grilles in outlets and inlets should comply with the requirements of BS EN 13451-1 and have gaps no greater than 8mm to prevent entrapment hazards. 

  • All wall and floor outlets should be fitted with a sump to a design that accords with BS EN 13451-3. 

Where there is more than one outlet...

Outlet systems should be designed in such a way that:

  • There are at least two functioning suction outlets per suction line

  • The distance between the nearest points of the perimeters of the devices is ≥2m

  • If any one of the suction outlets becomes blocked, the flow through the remaining suction outlet/s shall accommodate 100% of the flow rate

  • It is not possible to isolate one of the outlet sump suction lines by means of a valve

One outlet

In pools with only one outlet, the grille should be designed in such a way that:

  • It cannot be blocked

  • One user cannot cover more than 50% of the opening

  • Raised grilles can be domed opposite to the flow direction, with prevalent peripheral suction; the height of the dome shall be at least 10% of the main dimension (diameter)

  • Single grilles should have a grille area of ≥1m2 

Adhering to these measures provides the highest level of protection for bathers.

It is understood that there are hundreds of thousands of long-established pools in holiday accommodation across the world, pools that are likely to have a single main drain. While operators of holiday accommodation may not wish to close lucrative facilities for adaptation, doing nothing puts people’s lives at risk and is unjustifiable especially given that an anti-entrapment device such as the MSI Vac-Alert eliminates the danger and can be installed in 3-4 hours.  A reliable solution with minimal disruption. 


Hoteliers and the travel trade have a duty to ensure clients are able to enjoy pools and spas without coming to harm, and preventing entrapment is a significant part of that responsibility.  Looking at international media coverage, it appears that most entrapment accidents and deaths have taken place whilst families are holidaying abroad where perhaps regulations are less rigorously enforced/followed than in the UK. It is, therefore, incumbent on everyone involved in the provision of holiday packages and accommodation to ensure that the pools and spas at their destinations are safe, and regularly checked to maintain standards.

Learn more about the tried and trusted anti-entrapment device - Vac-Alert here.

For more information on the prevention of pool and spa entrapment, please contact us.

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