When you step on a pool drain cover, you probably notice the tingle on your foot from the suction but otherwise may not give them much thought. Put yourself into a child’s mind, though, and that ‘little tickle’ can seem a fun new way to play in the pool that could result in real harm.
In fact, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, suction entrapment in a pool drain was responsible for sending 39 Americans, mostly children, to the emergency room from 2008 to 2012. Their injuries ranged from bruising to fractured toes to rectal and intestinal prolapse caused by drain suction. Two young girls, a 6-year-old and a 14-year-old, died.
Typical entrapments include:
- Body entrapment (a section of the torso becomes entrapped).
- Limb entrapment (an arm or leg is stuck in an open drain pipe).
- Hair entrapment or entanglement (hair is pulled in and wrapped around the grate of the drain cover). Often this is unintentional, but there have also been reported cases of children playing a “hold your breath the longest” game, leaning forward in the water and allowing their hair to be sucked into a drain.
- Mechanical entrapment (jewelry or part of the bather’s clothing gets caught in the drain or the grate).
- Evisceration (the victim’s buttocks come into contact with the pool suction outlet and he or she is disemboweled; this is very rare).
To protect against the possibility of a drain entrapment in your pool or spa, check your current pool drain cover.
Older models feature wider gaps and are often flat to the surface, allowing more suction. New models typically feature large, round covers with smaller holes that reduce suction. If you’re not sure what type of drain cover your pool has, it’s best to have it inspected by a pool service professional, who can also check that missing or broken drain covers are replaced.
You should also be aware of what to do if a drain entrapment occurs:
- Turn off your pool or spa pump immediately.
- Fight your instinct to pull the person directly up and away from the powerful suction of the drain or grate. Just as the best way to escape an ocean rip current is by not fighting its direct flow, it’s best to wedge your fingers or a small object between the victim and the drain, then peel or roll them to the side, away from the drain.
- Keep a mobile phone close by to call for help and begin life-saving basics if needed.
Drain entrapments are rare, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. For more information about the government’s response to pool drain safety through the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, click here.