It’s a parent’s worst nightmare: Losing a child to a preventable accident, especially when the day was an outing meant for fun and family in the swimming pool. One of these preventable disasters is called pool drain entrapment.

To be honest, most pools and their drain systems are safe and your family will enjoy the day just as you envisioned. Experts point out that there are many inexpensive drain covers and anti-entrapment devices available and most pool owners make sure a disaster won’t happen in their pool.

Most parents are vigilant when their children are in a swimming pool. They also educate their children about the risks of pool drains and how to recognize the possible hazards. Public and private pool operators also have a responsibility to implement safety protocols and install safety devices to protect all swimmers from pool drain dangers.

But, to help ensure that proactive steps are taken to keep everyone safe, we’ve put together this article to provide the info needed to maximize pool safety efforts. We will discuss the dangers of pool drains and the types of pool drainage systems, and offer prevention methods that can protect swimmers from disaster.


Dangers of Pool Drains

Pool drain entrapment means a person’s body or limb covers a pool drain and is held there by a suction force that can’t be escaped. The average suction pressure of pool drains can be as high as 700 pounds, making it impossible to pull yourself free once this happens. 

Drains are located at the bottom or sides of swimming pools and are part of the pool’s plumbing system. The system pumps water into filters and keeps the chemical treatments flowing throughout the pool to keep the water healthy for humans. However, pumping water results in suction that can be strong, and sometimes swimmers, especially children and animals, can get stuck to the drain. A vacuum forms which makes it nearly impossible to free the victim. This situation is made even worse if the drain cover is broken or improperly installed.

Pool drains are grated at the top. However, in many cases, the holes on these grates are too large or they are not installed properly, and accidents still happen. Hair, jewelry, or fabric can get sucked in, as well as body parts.

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Without constant supervision in a swimming pool, it is easy to see how an accident like this can happen. A child’s body or hair can be sucked against the drain underwater and held there. The child has no way of escaping and no way of calling for help. Parents must supervise their children closely while they are swimming and stay alert to any signs of distress or disappearance of their child even for a moment. 

It is disasters like this that resulted in a federal law called the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, or VGB. This law requires every public pool to have an anti-entrapment drain cover in place. It’s up to parents to inquire about the pool’s compliance with this law. 

But what about private pools and hot tubs or spas? They pose just as much danger and aren’t regulated like public pools are. These smaller pools with single main drains are far more dangerous than those with dual drains like public pools because it’s easier to create a vacuum with only one drain.

Spas or hot tubs are especially deadly because drains are so much closer to bathers. Children can still be held underwater in a spa or hot tub, so parents must be extra careful of physical entrapment. 


Types of Pool Drain Systems

There are two main plumbing systems for swimming pools: active and passive plumbing. 

An active suction system can be more dangerous because it has a single main drain. This drain is then connected to the pool pump with a single pipe. Active plumbing systems have a closed loop from the pump to the main drain and that creates a lot of suction. Many entrapment cases result from single main drains.

Passive drain systems are safer because the main drain is used as an equalizer with no pressure. There is no suction from the pump because the skimmer has no closed loop.

You can determine if you have an active system or a passive one by checking to see if the pump sucks directly from the main drain or if the pump only draws from your pool skimmer.

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A logical question is whether you need a pool drain at all. It’s not possible to eliminate it completely because the main drain enables the system to work as it should. Remember: the function of the system is to keep the pool water safe for humans to swim in.

One exception is vinyl liner pools. These pools can do away with a pool drain without an issue. Any other kind of pool must have a main drain.


Tips for Preventing Pool Drain Accidents

Here are some pool drain safety tips to prevent tragic accidents from happening:

  1. Installation of compliant drain covers: These covers reduce the suction force of pool drains.
  2. Use of anti-entrapment devices: These devices prevent swimmers from coming into contact with pool drains when unsupervised. This includes pool covers, enclosures, and fences.
  3. Education: Parents must teach their children about the dangers of pool drains and provide pool safety tips. Pool managers of public pools must train staff and lifeguards and have a plan in place to constantly scan areas where drains are located in pools.
  4. Supervision: Parents have a responsibility to watch children closely while swimming and be prepared to act quickly when necessary. Don’t assume “everything’s fine.”
  5. Regular maintenance and inspections: Pool owners and operators, no matter the size of the pool, must conduct regular inspections to make sure drain covers and safety devices are in good working condition.


Pool Safety and Prevention Comes First

Pool entrapment happens when a swimmer is pulled by the normal suction of the pool’s circulation system toward an underwater drain and held there. This tragedy happens most often to children who aren’t strong enough to pull away from the drain on their own. The result is likely to be serious injury or drowning.

The understanding of the dangers of pool drains and proactive prevention is key to stopping these tragedies from happening at all, including making sure all drain covers are in place and in good condition and maintaining constant supervision of children in the pool. 

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