Safety In Numbers?

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I attended the Industry Entrapment Forum hosted by the NSPI technical committee in Alexandria, Va., on Dec. 15, to continue to educate myself on this important issue. It's one that is charged with emotion and one that, frankly, most of the industry seems to not want to talk about very much. I knew that the group might not reach a consensus on the wording that the technical committee wanted to forward to the International Code Council for consideration during the public comment period for amendments to the current International Building Code and International Residential Code specifications. But I thought I would learn about the nature, size and scope of swimming pool and spa-related entrapment deaths and injuries in the U.S.

I learned there are many people who are (not surprisingly) passionate on the subject of entrapment prevention. Of course, many companies will be profoundly affected by changes in building codes and manufacturing standards. For some it will mean additional expense and requirements. For others it will mean expansion of a category and increased need for the products they manufacture. For still others, it will mean the possibility of retroactive exposure to additional litigation by creative attorneys. But I think everyone agreed that the outcome they all want is for pools and spas to be even safer than they already are.

The most disturbing thing I learned, though, is that no one really knows the extent of the problem. The Consumer Product Safety Commission does not have a procedure for collecting exhaustive data on the subject. According to Troy Whitfield, a mechanical engineer for the CPSC who was at the forum, the agency gathers information by polling a sampling of hospitals and by relying on an assortment of news stories, death certificates and tips sent in to their hot line. So the information they gather is anecdotal, not scientific, and to be at all useful in describing the magnitude of the problem, it would have to be projected. The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, part of the Center for Disease Control, tracks water-related deaths by age, ethnic group and geographic location, but does not distinguish between bodies of water.

At the end of the meeting, I was left with two conflicting impressions. First, even if the true number of pool- and spa-related entrapments is 10 times the CPSC's figure, our industry is very safe when compared to other activities. But more importantly, even one death or injury is one too many for the victim, the victim's family and for our industry.

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