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Hidden Danger in Swimming Pools - Allen Wilson, Swimming Pool Health & Safety Expert Calls for Change

injured by a main drain

11 year old was drowned in a public pool at Terrasson-Lavilledieu whilst holidaying in the Dordogne, France.

Every year thousands of people swim in hotel, leisure centre and private pools without realising there may be a danger in the pool. When a child dies in a pool, the accident is most often attributed to ‘drowning’ without revealing that a child could have been trapped by the single main drain in that pool. Pools need two main drains to avoid the very serious risk of entrapment.

Another child dies because of entrapment: The most recent publicised case of entrapment happened in July when an 11 year old was drowned in a public pool at Terrasson-Lavilledieu whilst holidaying in the Dordogne, France. The boy drowned when his leg became trapped in the powerful suction of the pool’s only main drain.

Entrapment is preventable: In the case outlined above the pool had recently undergone refurbishment, yet was not fitted with a second main drain which would have prevented the child’s death. Alternatively, an anti-vacuum device could have been fitted; it would have released the child instantly.

How entrapment occurs: The primary reason is the lack of two main drains in the bottom of the pool. When a bather gets too close to a single main drain they are pulled onto the drain and become trapped by tremendous pump suction and it is almost impossible to break free. An experiment showed that it took 225kgs of weight to release an object trapped on a single drain. Adoption of relatively inexpensive measures would ensure that pools are safer.

Entrapment Incident records: 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. The majority of these cases involved under 18 year olds. Tragic stories are easy to find, for example, 6 year old Zachery Chon died after being trapped by the arm, 33 year old John Van Hoy was trapped in a spa at Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort in Nassau, a 14 year old girl died in Tunisia after jumping into the pool. The last recorded UK incident occurred in Runnymede when a young girl was disembowelled.

Industry inertia: Many operators of pools in hotels, holiday parks and leisure centres shy away from closing a pool for remedial work because it is a major undertaking involving closing and draining the pool, installing the second outlet, refilling the pool, chemical treatment and re-heating the water.

Pool safety standards: Newly introduced UK and European standards exist to ensure pools are equipped with two main drains, but many operators sidestep this requirement. In the UK, modern pools should be built to comply with BSEN 15288 and SPATA standards take into account the need for two drains and where necessary an anti-vacuum system fitted. This responds within a millisecond to any increase in filter pump suction, releasing a trapped bather from life-threatening suction.

Eliminating the risk: Installing an anti-vacuum system on a private pool should cost no more than £1,600. This involves modification to the pipework of the main circulation pump, which takes a few hours. A commercial installation would possibly cost more due to the increased size of the discharge pipework and would normally involve more than one main circulation pump. Estimated cost is around £3,000 depending on site conditions. This action will prevent the risk of being trapped in a drain and make swimming pools safer.



About Allen J Wilson

Mr Wilson is employed by Studies in Work, an H&S training and consultancy organisation which specialise in the safe operation of aquatic facilities. He has delivered training in Health & Safety matters for over twenty five years. He formerly worked in facility management for 20 years.

He is a member of the following institutes:
• Institute of Swimming Pool Engineers (ISPE) (Fellow, director and past President)
• Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH) (Technician)
• Member of the Alliance of Professional Leisure Trainers (MAPLT)

He is European representative for the Professional Pool Operators of America, a member of the Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group (PWTAG) and part of the revision group for the HSE on its document HSG179, ‘Managing Health & Safety in Swimming Pools’.

He has delivered training on behalf of the following institutes:
• Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH)
• Institute of Sport, Parks & Leisure (ISPAL)
• Institute of Sport & Recreation Management (ISRM)
• Institute of Swimming Pool Engineers (ISPE)
• Institute of Leisure & Amenity Management (ILAM Ireland)

Mr Wilson has carried out water testing on behalf of Which? magazine and was recently heavily involved in accident investigation, Legionnaires and Cryptosporidium outbreaks, risk auditing and training in the UK and abroad. This included the investigation into drowning deaths on behalf of prominent tour operators.

Mr Wilson has been widely published in the media and given interviews, for example, for Yorkshire TV’s Holidays from Hell and appeared on BBC’s Holiday Hit Squad with Angela Ripon commenting on pool accidents. He recently appeared on BBC Midland news giving his opinion on bacteriological dangers following recent flooding and on other stations on topics such as legionnaire’s disease and chlorine leaks.

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