Supplement Feature - February 2009
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Sink or Swim

Aquatic Operations Adjust With the Times

By Emily Tipping


Draining Resources

Even if you're financially doing OK, you may be facing another challenge: the implications of trying to comply with the Virginia Graeme Baker Act.

Enacted by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush on Dec. 19, 2007, the law is designed to prevent drain entrapment and eviscerations in pools and spas. Under the law, all public pools and spas need to have compliant drain covers installed and a second anti-entrapment system installed when there is only a single main drain (e.g., a safety vacuum release system or SVRS).

Pools had until Dec. 19, 2008 to comply, but according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, most of the country's swimming pools have not managed to come into compliance yet.

The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals (APSP) outlined some of the challenges faced by pool owners in a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the agency responsible for enforcing the law, back in October 2008:

  • Lack of availability of compliant covers, and the challenge of getting customized covers for larger or oddly shaped drains.
  • Lack of registered design professionals to field-certify covers for larger unblockable drains.
  • Permit holdups for some facilities.

Other associations and many pool professionals weighed in with the CPSC and their members of Congress, seeking to extend the date required for compliance, but no change was made. The CPSC expected public pools and spas that operate all year to be in compliance by the Dec. 19 deadline. Seasonal facilities get a slight reprieve—they must comply upon their reopening date in 2009.

"Our mission at the CPSC is to keep American families safe," said Nancy Nord, CPSC Acting Chairman. "CPSC will enforce the requirements of this pool and spa safety law with a focus on where the greatest risk of drain entrapment to children exists, such as wading pools, pools designed specifically for toddlers and young children, and in-ground spas, particularly where these types of pools and spas have flat drain grates and single main drain systems."

According to the Wall Street Journal, various pools are taking different measures, with some closing down and others staying open while trying to come into compliance. You too should make a good-faith effort to comply with the law.

The problem is that if there is an incident at your facility and you're not in compliance, the consequences could be severe. And even if there is no incident, if the CPSC discovers you're noncompliant, your facility will be shut down until you can make the needed changes.

One problem, according to Lachocki, is that it is critical to look at the intent of the law—which is to prevent entrapments, as well as drownings.

"Congress wisely appropriated and required that the organization that is going to enforce and implement this law (the CPSC) perform training because it's needed," he added. "If someone isn't telling pools what's required and how to come into compliance, the intent won't be achieved.

Where the mistake comes into place is by not fulfilling that legal responsibility to provide training, but still putting the burden on people to come into compliance—it places more lives at risk than you save."

Why?

"If people really follow the law, nearly every facility would be closed," Lachocki added. "Most facilities are not in compliance. And if most pools close, millions of children are not going to get swim lessons."

The point? In 2004, 761 kids drowned in the United States in streams, lakes, pools and so on. And over nine years, the CPSC tracked about nine deaths due to entrapment.

"If you close all the pools to prevent one entrapment, you increase the likelihood of drowning, as fewer kids have lessons and don't get those critical swimming skills," Lachocki said. "It's not acceptable that we have entrapments. Any pool that can should come into compliance as quickly as possible. But when the pools are safe because they have covers that may not be compliant but still prevent entrapment, it doesn't make sense to close those pools."