Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Swimming Pool Electrocution - How Much Do We Know?

Aside from the complex plot of the movie Syriana which turned movie goers into accidental researchers  and also sparked a bit of controversy, what troubled me, along with other parents, is the swimming pool accident that killed Bryan Wood's (Matt Damon) son (ooops!... spoiler, sorry).

Wood's son was electrocuted after jumping into the pool with "cracked" underwater pool lights. The tragic scene depicted raised the question if it can really happen in real life. The answer is... yes, swimming pool electrocution can happen rarely but deadly.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has reported cases of 60 deaths due to pool electrocution and around 50 injuries due to shock from 1990-2002:

  • 28 - Plugged-in radios or stereos, extension cords or power tools
  • 13 - Underwater pool lights
  • 10 - Pool pumps
  • 9 - Sump pumps, pool vacuums or pressure washers

The small figures say "rare" but it doesn't take away the possibility that electrocution can happen in any place, in less likely situations.

In June 10, 1991, 3 men were electrocuted at Kings Island amusement park in Mason, Ohio, this time the accident happened in a pond. Although a pond is different from a pool, the accident gives the idea that electrocution can happen either in or around the pool, pond or any enclosed body of water.

Like Virgina Graeme Baker who died in a pool suction entrapment accident and the basis of Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, Yasmin Paleso’o, who died of pool electrocution accident, urged state legislative measure which requires all pool owners to install ground fault interrupter (GFI) safety devices. The bill is now known as the Yasmin Paleso'o Memorial Swimming Pool Safety Law.

Ground fault interrupter (GFI), don't get confused with ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) because they are the same thing and can be used interchangeably, should be installed, by code, to protect persons against electric shock, in or around pools, ponds, bathrooms, laundry rooms, garages and other places where water or moisture could cause problems.

Photo Courtesy of IAEI Mag

A GFI would trip at at 5 mA to protect a swimmer in contact with the circuit from lethal shock. GFI should always be checked regularly and be replaced whenever necessary.

Going back to the movie, we should first understand that a person should be in the middle of the electricity and the ground, in simpler explanation electricity would find its way to the ground and if a you are in the "path" then, you would "alter" the ground.

Also, wires are installed parallel to the pool walls that's why there's a chance of the boy being electrocuted if he jumped near the faulty wires or if he was holding some kind of metal object. The Syriana pool accident scene is possible is not impossible but very unlikely to happen in reality.

But thank you to that tragic scene, we have discussed the importance of proper wiring in the pool, pond and so on. Unfortunately, some countries are not aware of the Yasmin Paleso'o Memorial Swimming Pool Safety Law and don't understand the use of GFI.

Hopefully, with this post, every pool owner would be urged to maintain proper wiring and use GFI for maximu safety.

Special thanks to our good friends at Metafilter and The Straight Dope


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