Gathering Input

NOVEMBER 20, 1996


On July 11, 1996. CPSC convened a meeting of representatives from the pool and spa industry; the medical community; federal, states and local regulatory agencies; and the public to discuss what can be done to prevent such disasters.

That meeting was opened with a concise briefing about what specifically constitutes a suction-entrapment accident. Delivered by William N. Rowley, Ph.D., PE, a commercial-pool engineer and longtime board member of the National Swimming Pool Foundation, the 15-minute presentation outlined the basic categories of accidents and described the typical scenarios under which these incidents occur.

And indeed, Rowley is uniquely qualified to define the relevant issues of suction entrapment. In 1974, as director of engineering for Swimquip, a manufacturer of pool and spa equipment that was based in El Monte, Calif. Rowley conducted a study of suction entrapment that to this day stands as one of the most comprehensive ever done.

With a test tank at the company's factory, Rowley staged a series of tests to quantify the suction force delivered by various plumbing configurations, pipe sizes, pump sizes and types of drain covers. He was also one of several research participants who volunteered to be entrapped on the test pool's bottom under a variety of conditions.

"I trapped off on drains that had just a fraction of the suction pressure that's present in some of these accidents, and even under controlled conditions, it was painful." Rowley says. "It was a frightening experience, one I know I'll never forget."

In the 20-plus years since these tests, Rowley has continued to gather anecdotal information about entrapment accidents and has become one of the leading voices in the call for increased safety standards.

Currently Rowley is working with NSPI and ANSI to rewrite language in their standards to increase the safety of public pool and spa installations. Rowley is also working with CPSC to develop retrofit recommendations for existing wading pools, spas and swimming pools.

One of the biggest obstacles to solving the suction- entrapment problem, says Rowley, is a lack of under standing about the conditions of risk and exposure that result in such accidents.
The need to assign blame in some instances — or to come up with easy, sure-fire answers — also clouds the real issues at band, he notes, and, in some ways, blocks progress toward a good solution.
"I believe it's very important for those of us looking to solve this problem that we start from a level playing field by first understanding what it is exactly that we're all talking about, "says Rowley.



















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