Chinese aquatics experts say there will be little fallout in the wake of a horrific entrapment incident that claimed the life of 12-year-old Tain Tseng this summer.
The boy was playing at a hotel waterpark in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, on July 21 when he was sucked into a 13-inch circulation pipe that was inexplicably missing a protective grill. The pipe was connected to a pump that powered a waterfall.
“I noticed he wasn’t there and I instantly suspected the worst,” his father Kung told the UK’s Daily Mirror. “Straight away I told staff that I thought maybe he had been sucked into the pipe, but they insisted that that was nonsense and it was impossible.”
Later, the boy’s body was seen inside the pipe and workers had to drain the pool to gain access to it.
Officials responded by closing the pool and began a month-long series of regional safety inspections.
Industry observers say that is where the government’s involvement likely will end.
Bill Kent is the president/owner of Team Horner, a Fort Lauderdale-Fla.-based importer and exporter of pool equipment. He reached out to his Chinese associates on behalf of AI to learn if there will be any repercussions following the tragic accident.
One Shanghai manufacturer told him in an email: “China will never pass any new regulations due to one accident in one city. … Once the accident [furor has died] down, the hotel will settle with the victim’s family. And then this issue will be forgotten.”
Though it’s apparent that the water playground was poorly designed, it does not indicate a systematic failure in the nation’s pool building practices, said Zhao Xin, an engineer at the China Architectural Design & Research Institute. He helped develop China’s current swimming pool standards. “The main reason [for the accident] is improper design and management,” he said.
Most public aquatics facilities are soundly engineered with the same ANSI/APSP standards that are widely used in the United States, Xin said. For example, at least two main drains equipped with protective barriers with minimal flow rates are required.
However, many older pools are out of compliance because they were built before the standards were established. That’s led to similar misfortunes.
“When similar events happened, it would lead to close-down and reconstruction,” Xin said. “The events forced the local governments to enforce the supervision and regulation, but it would not become a routine [part] of [the] inspection system.”
In other words, the standards are in place, but no one is ensuring the facilities are meeting code.
That may explain how the Qinlong Hot Spring Hotel’s new waterpark opened earlier this year without a protective barrier over one of the suction outlets. It may not have been inspected.
That might not come as a surprise to Dr. John Fletemeyer. While he hasn’t been to China, he has evaluated well over 100 pools in Thailand and Japan, among other countries, and has found that government-enforced safety measures — if they exist at all — fell significantly short of U.S. standards. At commercial pools, he commonly noted a lack of rescue equipment, fences and depth markers, among other hazards that would be considered violations in the United States.
Fletemeyer agrees that this entrapment will not trigger a VGBA-type movement in the People’s Republic of China.
“I don’t foresee this being a wake-up call,” said Fletemeyer, founder of the Aquatic Law & Safety Institute in Seattle. “I think what makes something a wake-up call is a legal system like we have in the U.S.”
China does not require pool operators to be licensed. Only lifeguards need to be certified by the country’s Bureau of Sports.
But there is a silver lining. The U.S.-based National Swimming Pool Foundation has several instructors in China conducting Certified Pool and Spa Operator courses, bringing American expertise to this market.