The Hidden Dangers of Swimming Pool Entrapment

Most parents are familiar with the usual dangers associated with swimming. However, little is known of the potentially very serious hazards associated with “swimming pool entrapment”.

Children are particularly vulnerable to entrapment which occurs when swimmers become trapped at or against a pool or spa drain, due to pump suction. Hair, body parts, bathing suits and jewellery can lead to entrapment and the resulting injuries include death by drowning, evisceration and disembowelment.

In the United States, safety initiatives have been codified in the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, which was enacted following the tragic death of Virginia Graeme Baker in June 2002. Virginia was a 7 year old girl who became trapped due to suction from a spa drain. The drain’s suction held her under the water and, despite the considerable efforts of adults who tried to rescue her, she drowned.

Another tragic case involves a 6 year old girl named Abigail Taylor who was in a wading pool when she accidentally encountered an uncovered drain. The drain’s suction led to Abigail losing much of her intestinal tract. She underwent bowel, liver and pancreas transplants but succumbed to her injuries nine months later.

There are numerous other reported cases in the United States, which recognizes and tracks injuries through the category of pool entrapment. However, similar injuries do not appear to be tracked by category in Canada so the full extent of the problem may be unknown.

In the United States, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act recognizes the danger posed by inadequate systems and requires that all public pools and spas are equipped with drain covers compliant with the ASME/ANSI A112.19.8 2007 standard.

Canadian standards also exist, such as those recognized by the Pool & Hot Tub Council of Canada and the Ontario Government as it relates to public recreational water facilities .

However, safety initiatives to increase awareness of the dangers of pool entrapment need to be undertaken by safety organizations, spa and pool service providers and Governments, given that many older residential and public pools and spas may have systems that contain entrapment hazards.

There also needs to be greater awareness of this issue so that parents and their children are protected. Preventative steps include:

  1. Inspecting pool drains and systems to ensure they are modernized and safe and that older, dangerous models are replaced;
  2. Educating all swimmers, including children, to stay away from pool and spa drains, pipes and other protrusions and openings; and
  3. Educating all swimmers to tie their hair back and remove loose clothing and jewellery before swimming.

Emergency Steps include:

  1. If a swimmer gets stuck to a drain, making sure someone shuts off the pump and calls 911;
  2. Since it may be impossible to lift someone off of a drain due to suction forces, the rescuer should aim to reach across the person and then roll or peel the person off of the drain by pulling sideways; and
  3. Being prepared to perform CPR or other life saving measures until help arrives.

For more information about swimming pool entrapment, please check out the following links:

Toronto4Kids: Pool Drain Safety for Kids Canadian Public Pool Safety Standards


Contributed by Laura Hillyer, an OTLA Director and lawyer practising with Martin & Hillyer Associates in Burlington, Ont.

Re-posted with permission at


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Laura Hillyer divides her practice between Personal Injury Litigation and Criminal Defence. She strives to help her clients with the challenges they face whether they are injured or disabled and are seeking fair compensation, or are charged with a criminal offence. Laura believes that practising in these two areas of law provides her with a wide breadth of experience and gives her a balanced approach in facing legal problems.