Supplement Feature - February 2011
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The Right Safeguards

Protecting Pool Patrons, Reducing Risk

By Wynn St. Clair


About 42 percent of the reported incidents took place in public pools, reinforcing the fact that aquatic centers and waterparks have an obligation to ensure their drains will not snare patrons. The precautions will not only save lives, they are part of any thorough risk-management plan.

The protections, among other things, include making the right design decisions. Under the law, all public pools and spas must have compliant drain covers and a second anti-entrapment system installed when there is a single main drain other than an unblockable drain.

Single drain public pools are not required to install multiple drains. Rather, federal law only requires that they install approved anti-entrapment drain covers and use one of the other secondary layers of protection. The law also does not require public pools to install new sumps.

"Nowhere (in the law) does it say to install two drains," Pennington said. "This can cost a lot of money because you have to empty a swimming pool and cut up the bottom of the pool to put in two drains. This can be especially cost-prohibitive for older pools that would then need to be re-plastered."

Dual drains, if spaced and plumbed at least 3 feet from each other, minimize entrapments because bathers cannot block both drains.

Dual drain pools only need to install approved safety drain covers to comply with the law, but the Pool Safety Council strongly recommends all pools and spas, even private residential pools and spas, install both approved drain covers and an additional layer of protection.

Pools do not need to be drained in order for drain covers to be installed. Initial requirements out of Los Angeles County that its 16,000 public pools be drained in order to replace covers would have led to nearly 1 billion gallons of wasted water, Pennington said.

The CPSC staff also recommends that to eliminate and not just mitigate the drain entrapment hazard in pools and spas, pool owners should disable old drains or build new pools without any drains and use gutters, overflows and/or skimmers to provide water to the pump.

Once the mechanics are in place, pool operators still have major responsibilities. The National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) advises paying close attention to spas and wading pools, where bathers are at greater risk because they're closer to the suction outlets in shallow water.

Among the top priorities is ensuring the drains don't become clogged and that drain covers are properly installed. No pool or spa should ever be opened if the drains are missing, damaged or secured incorrectly.

Operators also should check frequently with the CPSC for any advances or new recommendations for preventing entrapment. Updates can be found at the CPSC Web site, www.poolsafely.gov.

Though pools were supposed to be shuttered until they met the law's requirements, recent media reports suggest this has not happened. For example, an investigation by the Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago newspaper, found that more than 1,000 facilities in Illinois weren't in compliance.

Most remained open anyway, the paper reported in August 2010. Pennington views their continued operation a federal crime.

"We want to make pools entrapment-proof," he said. "If a pool doesn't meet the standards, it shouldn't be opened."