POOL & SPA NEWS NOVEMBER 20, 1996

SPECIAL REPORT

ALTHOUGH MANY IN THE POOL AND SPA INDUSTRY HAVE WORKED FOR YEARS TO ELIMINATE THE RISK OF SUCTION ENTRAPMENT ACCIDENTS BY RAISING AWARENESS AMONG PROFESSIONALS AND CONSUMERS, IT TOOK THE MAY DROWNING OF A NEW JERSEY TEENAGER IN A HEALTH-CLUB SPA TO PUT THIS TROUBLING ISSUE IN THE PUBLIC EYE.

The
entrapment
solution

by ERIC HERMAN

In this special report, P&SN uses data gathered by one of the industry's leading engineers to focus on these horrific accidents and to examine what more can be done to prevent them.

 

It's as bad as bad gets-almost unthinkable, in fact.


An innocent bather, be it a child, teenager or adult is enjoying a dip in a pool or spa and suddenly, without warning, disaster strikes. The force of tremendous suction traps the victim, typically through an unprotected drain, and no matter the desperate efforts of those nearby, he or she is either killed or so badly injured that his or her life will never be the same.

Welcome to the topic of suction entrapment.

It may be a tough pill to swallow for those who chafe at any negative press targeting pools and spas, but the Summer of ‘96 may well be remembered as the season when suction entrapment captured national attention and became a pressing public concern.

A FLICKER TO A FLAME

Her name was Tanya Nickens and she was a 16-year- old high-school junior who was attending an alcohol-free, prom-night party at a health club in Wall Township, N.J.. on Saturday, May 25. She and friends were enjoying the facility’s spa when she dipped below the water’s surface and got stuck on one of the vessel’s two 12-by-12-inch drains.

Despite attempts by her friends and a lifeguard to free her, the force holding Nickens to the bottom of the spa would not let her go, and she remained pinned under water. There was no shut-off switch near the spa, and the door to the equipment room, which was located on another floor, was locked.

For reasons no one can explain, this story captured the national spotlight where other, similar accidents in the past had not. Reports of Nickens’ death surfaced in major newspapers and on local newscasts in many cities across the country. Nationally broadcast programs including "Oprah," "20/20" and "The Today Show" used the accident as impetus for segments examining the danger of suction entrapment.

Many reports contained misleading information, especially early newspaper stories that attempted to outline the conditions surrounding Nickens’ death. One paper reported that she was trapped by 14 tons of pressure, an impossibility that was nonetheless picked up by several other publications. Others reported that the grate covering the drain had been detached at the time of the accident. In fact, subsequent investigations suggest that the grate was possibly broken during the accident by contact with Nickens’ body.

Immediately following the accident, the New Jersey Department of Health issued a public-safety advisory, as did the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. But those warnings only reinforced measures already outlined in documents such as The Standard for Public Spas, published by the National Spa & Pool Institute and the American National Standards Institute.

And while those currently looking at suction accidents agree that increased awareness of existing recommendation-such as installing dual drains and spa-side safety switches and conducting mandatory inspections is needed, the issue of what more can and should be done remains at the fore.

POOL & SPA NEWS NOVEMBER 20, 1996, Archive Page 1

 

 

 

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