It happened yesterday. A small child almost drowned after getting his arm stuck in a pool drain. The five year old was music star Usher’s son. He was lucky to survive but almost didn’t. The child was attempting to retrieve a toy that had fallen into the pool and sunk to the bottom. An adult caregiver tried to free him from the suction and couldn’t. Two males who were working inside the singer’s house were finally able to pry the boy free of the drain entrapment. He’s now hospitalized, but is expected to recover.
Pool drains are an unknown danger that have killed or injured children as well as adults. The suction can be so strong that there’s no escaping the pull.
In 2007, The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act was passed by Congress to provide public pools and spas safety guidelines for drains. The Act was named after 7 year-old Virginia Graeme Baker who became stuck to a hot tub drain and was not able to pull her-self free. It took 2 grown men to disengage her, but she drowned before they were able to get her released.
Parents or guardians may not be aware that these drains are dangerous. The vacuum effect is powerful enough to hold a child at the bottom of a pool or spa. Contact with a flat drain can create suction equal to hundreds of pounds of pressure. While many parents make sure that their child takes swimming lessons, they fail to mention the dangers of getting too close to a pool drain.
Children’s public wading pools, other pools designed specifically for young children, and in-ground spas that have flat drain grates and single main drain systems pose the greatest risk of entrapment.
The best way to prevent these hazards is to recognize them ahead of time, and to use caution when in a pool or spa. The key entanglement and entrapment hazards include:
- Body: A body part, often the torso or bottom, covers a drain and is held down by the intensity of the suction.
- Hair: Long hair is caught in a faulty drain cover.
- Limbs: Arms, legs, feet or fingers are lodged in a suction opening.
- Mechanical: Jewelry, bathing suits or other materials are entangled in a drain cover.
- Evisceration/disembowelment: When suction draws out the intestines and organs.
Some pool drains are more dangerous than others. If a pool only has one drain, the suction will be greater. These are usually found in older pools. Sometimes the drain cover will come off and a small whirlpool will spin around the hole. If you see a pool in that condition– do not let your child get in.
It’s important to know where the pool shut-off valve or connection is so in case of an emergency, the pool can be shut down.
It’s also possible to install a safety vacuum release system that will shut the pool off when the drain becomes blocked.
Usher’s little boy was fortunate yesterday, but there are many stories of children who were not so lucky. Make sure to inspect any pool your children are going to be in and teach them about staying away from a drain. If a toy or piece of jewelry or anything else gets too close to a pool drain, it’s better to let it be.