Supplement Feature - February 2012
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Roll With the Changes

What Aquatic Facility Managers Need to Know About ADA, VGB and More

By Rick Dandes

Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act

Pool operators also need to be aware of the latest requirements mandated by an update of the 2007 VGB law—legislation that takes its name from Virginia Graeme Baker, a young girl who drowned after being trapped under water by the suction from a hot tub drain.

The updated mandate by U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission decreed that a backup system or device now is required on single main drains at pools and spas. "The rule change," explained Thomas M. Lachocki, CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF), "means an unblockable drain (greater than 18 by 23) is no longer sufficient to comply with the law.

Now, he said, all drain covers must comply with anti-entrapment standard. No compliance date has yet been announced. The CPSC was taking public comment through the end of 2011 before deciding on a date, but Lachocki said, "I'm guessing facilities will have to be compliant by Memorial Day."

Fortunately, there have been no suction entrapment fatalities since this law went into effect. But the effect of the new regulation might be considerable, he believes.

"Look," Lachocki said, "the potential impact of having this change places additional financial burdens on facilities that are already facing extraordinary financial challenges."

These changes could be the straw that breaks the camel's back, Lachocki added, and when more pools close, one potential outcome is that fewer children learn to swim, and as a result, the risk of drowning goes up.

The Best Defense: Lifeguards as First Responders

If you think of lifeguards as first responders, and just as important as EMS workers rushing to accident scenes, you'll understand how important the initial certification process is when looking to fill that position. Aquatic facility managers should make sure all lifeguard certifications are current and that they have documentation of all those current certifications.

"One of the key things for managers is to understand the job of a lifeguard," suggested Roy Fielding, who works with The Red Cross, and teaches at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Fielding is one of the foremost aquatic directors in the nation and has been working with pools for more than 40 years. "There are facility managers who really don't have an idea of what a lifeguard does."

Everyone who operates a pool should have training on lifeguard management, Fielding explained. "You want to know before even hiring what kind of skills they have. For example, in almost all lifeguarding programs there is a minimum depth at which they have to perform skills—usually 6 to 7 feet. Well, my pool at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte goes down to 13 feet. So here, I need to pre-test them before I even hire them to see if they can do the job."

Tom Griffiths, president, Aquatic Safety Research Group, of State College, Pa., added that pools need sufficient numbers of lifeguards for high-volume periods.

Probably the most crucial thing that pool operators don't know is that more than 50 percent of all drownings occur when there are organized groups coming to the pool, like school groups. That's when you need extra hired staff on hand.

"I do a lot of expert witnessing for lawsuits," Griffiths said, "and more than half the calls, when they're talking about tragic drownings, usually occur at some type of birthday party or school group."