Hidden Risk Is Ticking Time Bomb

There are estimated to be at least a million pools across Europe with single main drains. Pic for example purposes only.
There are estimated to be at least a million pools across Europe with single main drains. Pic for example purposes only.

In July this year, tragedy struck when an 11 year old boy, on holiday with his family in the Dordogne, France drowned in a public pool. The boy’s leg had become trapped by fierce suction from the only main drain. The pool had recently undergone refurbishment. Sadly, it had not been fitted with a second main drain which would have prevented the accident.

When disaster strikes and a child dies in a pool, the accident is invariably attributed to ‘drowning’ without exposing that ‘entrapment’ by a harmless-looking main drain could be the cause.

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. There are estimated to be hundreds of pools in the UK that have only a single drain with numbers on the continent running into millions.

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 that is almost impossible to break, resulting in severe injuries.

An American experiment showed that it took 225kgs of weight to release an object trapped on 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.

Making single main drain pools safe, with the installation of a second main drain, is an expensive business that involves the pool closed and drained. Many operators of pools in hotels, holiday parks and leisure centres shy away from closing a pool for remedial work because of commercial pressures but the risk to human life is too high to ignore.

An anti-entrapment device could be installed much more costeffectively. Typically a domestic installation of an anti-vacuum alert device would cost in the region of £1,000 to £1,200. The installation involves a simple modification to the pipe work of the main circulation pump – the work can be completed within three hours. Commercial installation would be more expansive due to the increased size of the discharge pipe work and would normally involve more than one main circulation pump. Dependent on the layout of the plant room, a commercial anti-entrapment could be about £5,000.

“In my view operators who ignore entrapment risks are being negligent,” says Alan Wilson, a health and safety specialist and outgoing Present of the Institute of Swimming Pool Engineers.

“Citing commerciality is inexcusable because modern technology provides an effective, low-cost solution – anti-vacuum alert systems that respond within a millisecond to any increase in filter pump suction, thus freeing a trapped bather from a life-threatening situation,” he declares.

“All public and private pools are susceptible to entrapment, and should have a minimum of two main drains,” Wilson continues.

“These must be arranged so that there is no risk of bathers being pulled towards them. “When an entrapment incident occurs there is no time to find the person that knows where the ‘stop’ button is – ensuring it cannot happen is the only solution.”