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Pool and Spa Drains: Body Entrapment, Hair Entanglement Preventable Hazards to Children

Recommended Safety Measures Include Special Drain Covers

Three kids swimmingPool and spa drains pose a serious risk of body entrapment and hair entanglement, particularly to children, but are preventable hazards if safety precautions, including the use of special drain covers, safety vacuum-release systems (SVRSs), and other pressure-venting filter-construction techniques are used, say the Consumer Product Safety Commission and The American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Body entrapment  "often involves a child playing with an open drain, inserting a hand or foot into a pipe, and then becoming trapped by increasing suction that causes tissue swelling.3

Hair entrapment occurs when a bather's hair is sucked into the suction fitting drain of a pool or spa, hot tub, or whirlpool bathtub and becomes entangled in a suction fitting drain cover as the water and hair are drawn powerfully through the drain. In several incidents, children were playing a "hold your breath the longest" game, leaning forward in the water and permitting their long hair to be sucked into the drain.    strong enough to cause entrapment of hair or body parts, and drowning.

Alarming facts

The statistics are sobering and enough to give every parent pause:

  • There were 98 cases reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) of body entrapment in a pool or spa drain, including 15 confirmed deaths, between 1990 and 2007.1,2   The deaths were the result of drowning after the body, or a limb, was held against the drain by the suction of the circulation pump. The incidents occurred in both residential and public settings:
    • Twenty-two incidents occurred at a residential location, and 31 at a public facility.  In 21 cases, the location was not specified;
    • Thirty-nine of the incidents occurred in spas, hot tubs, or whirlpools;
    • 31 incidents occurred in swimming pools and three occurred in a wading pool (one location was reported as ”unknown”). In one of the spa incidents, a 16-year-old girl became trapped on a 12" by 12" flat drain grate in a large public spa and died.
  • According to the CPSC, there were 43 incidents of hair entanglement, including 12 deaths, between January 1990 and August 2004.  The incidents typically involve females who are underwater with their long hair near a suction outlet, when the water flow into the drain sweeps the hair into and around the cover, where it becomes tangled in the holes and protrusions of the cover, causing the victims' heads to be held under water.  Most accidents with drain outlets involve people with hair that is shoulder length or longer.

Drain safety measures

The CPSC and the AAP recommend the following safety measures to prevent body entrapment and hair entanglement in a pool, spa, hot tub, or whirlpool bathtub:

  • If you own a pool, spa, hot tub or whirlpool bathtub:
    • install special drain covers, safety-vacuum release systems (SVRSs), filter pumps with multiple drains, or another pressure-venting filter-construction techniques;
    • Make sure your child keeps his or her long hair away from the suction fitting drain cover; better yet, have him/her wear a bathing cap or pin the hair up if your child has long hair;
    • Never allow a child to play in a way that could permit the child's hair to come near the drain cover. Always supervise children around a spa, hot tub, whirlpool bathtub, wading pool, or swimming pool;3 and 
    • If drain cover is missing or broken, shut down the pool, spa, or hot tub until drain cover is replaced.
  • For public pools and spas, make sure that special drain covers, unblockable drains, and SVRSs have been installed, as required under the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, which became effective in December 2008.
  • Regardless of whether the pool is public or privately-owned never -  even for a moment - leave small children alone or in the care of another young child while in bathtubs, pools, spas, or wading pools.
For updated drowning prevention advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics, click here.


1. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Guidelines for Entrapment Hazards: Making Pools and Spas Safer (2005)

2. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 1999 –2007 Reported Circulation/Suction Entrapments Associated With Pools, Hot
Tubs, Spas, and Whirlpools, 2008 Memorandum

3. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention.  "Policy Statement - Prevention of Drowning." Pediatrics (published online May 24, 2010).

Created June 8, 2010