Prevent drownings with safety pool drains and other elements: Contact a licensed pool contractor
The death of a child is a parent’s worst nightmare—a nightmare made even worse when the death could have been prevented.
In summer 2002, 7-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker became stuck in a hot-tub drain and was unable to pull herself free. Desperate efforts by her mother proved fruitless, and the child ultimately drowned. However, the true cause of her death was entrapment due to a faulty drain cover with a suction pressure later estimated at 700 pounds.
“I kept pulling at her, never understanding what was holding her down and I couldn’t pull her off,” mother Nancy Baker told ABC News. “I opened my eyes underwater and there aren’t words to describe what this is like.”
Following her daughter’s death, Baker and others called for Congress to implement pool safety measures that would prevent similar entrapment and drowning tragedies. Their advocacy resulted in the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGBA), which established key safety requirements including a federal swimming pool and spa drain-cover standard, minimum public pool and spa safety requirements for all states, and drowning-prevention public education services.
Reflecting the federal act, California passed its own legislation outlining detailed safety requirements—including anti-entrapment drain covers and related systems—for public and residential pools and spas.
With swimming season on the horizon, as part of pool and spa safety considerations, don’t forget to check the drains: Old, unsafe drain covers are flat and create strong circulation that can easily trap hair or a body part if they become blocked. New, safer drains are designed to be curved so that they can never be fully blocked by a body part. Take time to check your pool or spa drain and related areas with tips from the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, which oversees the VGBA’s Pool Safely public-education campaign:
Ensure any pool and spa you or your children use have anti-entrapment drain covers. Ask if you do not know before allowing children to get in the water.
- Keep children away, and teach children to stay away, from pool drains, pipes, and other openings to avoid entrapments and entanglements.
- Make sure that loose items such as long hair, clothing, or jewelry are not dangling when swimming in a pool or sitting in a spa.
- Consider installing a Safety Vacuum Release System—a device that automatically shuts off a pump if a blockage is detected—or any other automatic shut-off systems in your own pool or spa.
- Plainly mark the location of the electrical cut-off switch for the pool or spa pump.
- Know where the pool or spa pump switch is and know how to turn it off.
- Turn off the pump immediately in an emergency.
- Instead of trying to pull the person away from the powerful suction of the drain or grate, insert fingers or a small object between the drain and the person’s body to break the seal and then roll them off until they’re free.
- Have a portable phone close by to call for help.
- Learn and practice CPR and other life-saving strategies so you can assist in a pool emergency.
- Have a licensed swimming pool professional inspect your pool or spa drain cover.
Pool contractors licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Contractors State License Board are tested and trained to make sure your pool or spa is in compliance with all current VGBA, state, and local standards. They make it their business to help protect you and your family from preventable swimming tragedies, so don’t hesitate to contact them with any questions or concerns.
“I really wish it wasn’t my daughter,” added Baker. “But when she died, [the issue] moved from the back pages of the newspaper to the front pages of the newspaper.”