Pool Drain Safety: Spot an Unsafe Drain and Take Steps to Make Pool Drains Safer

If you have a pool in your backyard and young, small children who like to swim in it, you may believe you have implemented all of the layers of protection. However, one area of the pool in particular has often been overlooked, and it is potentially one of the most hazardous to young children: your pool drain.

In fact, pool drain entrapment is a serious risk. It’s taken the lives of many loved ones. However, the good news is there are steps you can take right now to make your pool safer. You can help save a child by doing so.

Below, we’re sharing some important information to increase awareness and to help make all pool drains safer.*

Have You Asked Yourself These Questions?

If you answer ‘no’ to the questions below, if you do not have clear answers for these questions, or if you have never thought about pool drain safety before, it’s very possible your drain might not be safe. See below:

  • “Is my pool equipped with safety-compliant drain covers?”
  • “Have I educated my children about the dangers of swimming near drains?”
  • “When was the last time I inspected the drain/drain covers for wear and tear?”
  • “Am I aware of any recalls on the pool drain covers I have installed?”
  • And, this question: Has a pool safety expert inspected your pool drain for any safety issues and provided you with direct feedback?

Remember, one of the most important things you can do as a parent is to stay hypervigilant about water safety and proactive, as pool safety standards continually evolve. If you have any doubts, the time to act is right now.

What is Pool Drain Entrapment?

There is nothing good or pretty about Pool Drain Entrapment. It is a very serious topic with some very serious, potentially fatal, results. Entrapment happens when someone gets “stuck” to a drain, in a hot tub or pool, by the suction of the water as it goes down the drain (as the water cycles throughout the pool), even if no pump is on. This is a grave hazard for small children that comes with dire consequences. More information on this is provided below.

What is an Unsafe Drain?

The below (credit) is a summary of information from the Zac Foundation and poolsafely.gov websites.*

Pool Drain Safety

Here is a helpful infographic from the Zac Foundation website:  Click here.

There are several kinds of pool drains that are not safe, especially for young and small children. What follows is a short list of what makes a drain unsafe (Note: Credit goes to poolsafely.gov) along with a short explanation of each issue:

  • Loose or Missing Drain Cover: All drain covers must be securely fastened and not damaged.
  • Flat Drain Covers: Flat drain covers are more likely to cause entrapment when compared to a dome-shaped or unblockable cover.
  • Single Main Drain: Pools should ideally have dual drains to reduce the suction power of each.
  • Large Openings in Drain Cover: Drain (cover) openings must not be large. The openings need to be small enough to prevent fingers, hair, or clothing from getting caught (stuck by the suction).
  • Visible Wear and Tear: Drains must be regularly inspected for cracks, broken pieces, or any signs of deterioration.
  • Non-Compliant Covers: Make sure the drain covers meet the standards of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act.

What Can You Do If You Suspect Your Drain is Not Safe?

  • If you have a drain with no cover or the cover you have is not compliant with the VGB Safety Act (more on that below), you must install a safe cover NOW (an anti-entrapment pool drain cover)!
  • If you have a pool drain cover that has been recalled, you should immediately replace it with one that is considered to be safe.
  • And if you have any doubts, you should call a pool safety expert to evaluate your drain.

However, if your pool drain cover is in compliance with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, and if you check it regularly for visible wear and tear, the risks of entrapment are drastically reduced.

What Is a Safe Drain?

There are several ways you can make your backyard pool’s drain safe. Here are some of them:

Install Proper Drain Covers:

  1. Use only dome-shaped, and unblockable covers to prevent entrapment.
  2. It is important to use ASME/ANSI A112.19.8-compliant drain covers.
  3. Have your drain covers regularly inspected and maintained to ensure they are secure, undamaged, and still function properly so you can have some peace of mind.

Other ways to increase your backyard pool’s general safety:

Implement Additional Safety Measures

  1. Install two separate drains to reduce suction power.
  2. Install a vacuum release system, which detects increased vacuum pressure and shuts off the pump.
  3. Install a climb-resistant mesh fence, with a self-closing, self-latching gate, and an alarm or two to prevent unsupervised children gaining access to the pool.
  4. Talk to your children about the dangers of playing near drains, and always supervise them. Also, never leave children unattended while in a pool. If this is not possible, then have a responsible person be a “water watcher” to supervise the children in the pool for you.
  5. All adults/parents/caregivers should become certified in how to administer Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Having that skill and knowledge can be the difference between life and death, especially when it comes to drowning cases.
  6. According to the American Red Cross, you and your family must make water safety a priority, and the adults/older children need to know what to do in an emergency.
  7. Implement additional layers of protection, including, but not limited to, early infant swim instruction; adult supervision; high locks on any gates, doors, and windows that connect to the pool; door and window alarms; and pool alarms.

The Virginia Graeme Baker (VGB) Pool & Spa Safety Act

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act was enacted by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush on December 19, 2007. It became effective on December 19, 2008. The act was designed to prevent the hidden and horrific hazard of drain entrapments and eviscerations in pools and spas. Under this law, all pools and spas must have drain covers that meet the ANSI/ASME A112.19.8 performance standard or the successor standard of ANSI/APSP-16 2011, as well as a second anti-entrapment system installed when there is a single main drain other than an unblockable drain.

This Act came to be after 7-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker, who was a twin and the youngest of five children, became stuck to a hot tub drain in June 2002 and was unable to pull herself free, even though she was able to swim without assistance since she was 3 years old. She was so stuck to the drain that her mother could not pull her off it. Eventually, two men had to pull so hard to free her that the drain cover broke from the force. Little Virginia died from drowning, but the real cause was suction entrapment due to a faulty drain cover.

After this horrible tragedy, her mom, Nancy Baker, worked tirelessly to promote pool and spa safety. Eventually, she got the support she needed, and the Act was signed into law by President Bush in December 2007. Today, all pools and spas (public or private) must comply with the standards put forth in the VGB Pool & Spa Safety Act.

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    Frequently Asked Questions About Pool Drain Safety

    1. Why are pool drains dangerous? Pool drains can create strong suction that can trap swimmers, particularly children, leading to injury or drowning. The risks include hair entrapment, body entrapment, limb entrapment, mechanical entrapment, and even disembowelment.
    2. How do I know if my pool drain cover is safe? Ensure the drain cover is securely fastened and not damaged. Check if it’s in compliance with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act. Regularly inspect for visible wear and tear and replace the cover if you see damage.
    3. What if my pool drain cover is recalled? Visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website to search for any recalls on your pool drain covers. If your drain cover is recalled, follow the instructions for replacing it with a compliant cover. It is crucial to the safety of your family to always be informed about any pool drain cover recalls.
    4. There are five kinds of pool drain entrapment: According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), the types are hair, body, limb, and mechanical entrapment, plus disembowelment. When someone’s hair gets entangled, or their body/limb gets pulled right onto the top of the drain, or a piece of jewelry or clothing gets caught in the drain, most of these incidents usually result in the person being severely injured, if not drowning from being underwater for such a prolonged amount of time. The last kind of drain entrapment is disembowelment, which happens if the victim’s buttocks come into contact with an uncovered drain; the drain’s suction does the work, severely injuring the victim resulting in death or lifelong impairment.

    Families, parents, grandparents, you need to do all you can to avoid this kind of tragedy happening to a young member of your family.

    Additionally, according to Pool and Spa News, between 1999 and 2009, there were about 94 (12 fatal) incidents of drain suction entrapment, and 12 of these involved children under the age of 5 (none fatal). And, in 2009, there were eight entrapments, none fatal.

    Don’t Let This Happen to Your Children

    Resources and Further Reading:

    * Special Note & Disclaimer:
    The above information contained herein is for educational purposes only and is not promotional in nature. Our sole purpose in providing this information is to help improve awareness about this important issue. Safety information and standards change over time, and it’s possible that the information on this page will require updating for accuracy. Always consult an expert, research local laws and regulations, and identify current legal standards first to make an informed decision. None of the authors, contributors, administrators, or anyone else connected with this website, in any way whatsoever, can be responsible for your use of the information contained on this web page or any page linked from this page. This website and its owner(s) assume no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this site. The information contained on this site is provided on an “as is” basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness, or timeliness. By visiting this page, all/any visitors agree to this disclaimer.