Feature Article - April 2006
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Safe Swimming

Managing risk at aquatic facilities

By Kyle Ryan

Safeguard your pool

Perhaps no other aquatic risk seems to get more publicity lately than entrapment. Drownings have more of an accidental perception and, in some cases, result from a victim's actions. Entrapment, though, seems more sinister. It's hard to blame a victim who died because her hair got caught in a suction grate. Because the incidents tend to be tragic or at least frightening, they get a lot of play in the media. What could be more horrifying than a child getting eviscerated in a hot tub?

Because of these types of occurrences, the aquatics industry has made great strides over the past few decades in entrapment prevention. Facilities can prevent entrapment accidents any number of ways, and for the most part, they have. It's at private locations where the worst accidents typically occur, like the boy in the hot tub. But Osinski says the accidents still are happening everywhere, and they're still the same types of accidents.

Suction entrapment comes in four varieties: hair, limb, body and mechanical. Each differs in both what it is and how it's prevented. But there are general solutions and guidelines facilities can implement to reduce the overall threat of entrapment.

For example, anti-vortex, tamper-resistant grates will work. Vacuum-release systems (a.k.a. SVRSs, safety vacuum release systems) make a big difference too, as they automatically shut off when there's a sudden increase in pressure, which would occur when a body part gets sucked up against a grate. Most pools have two drains now, not a single drain, which also helps. The drains need to be on different planes and a certain distance apart. Facilities need to have pump kill-switches located near the water.

Entrapment risk, of course, varies according to facility type. A splash play area won't have the same threats as a 25-year-old swimming pool. To assess the risk, managers need to take a comprehensive look at what they have at their facility.