May 21, 2024

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The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act

Drowning is one of the most dreaded of all ways to die, a recurring theme in bad dreams and horror movies, yet each year in the United States hundreds of people drown in pools and spas, including almost 300 children under the age of 5. Particularly disturbing are the deaths, injuries and trauma associated with Suction Entrapment, which involves a person getting caught on a bottom drain or other suction port and held by it under the water. The victim risks not only drowning but evisceration by the powerful suction action of the pump. The June 2002 Suction Entrapment death of the young child of a prominent American family set in motion what became the Virginia Graeme Baker Act, with the goal of eliminating suction entrapment and further reducing other pool and spa-related deaths and injuries. That act puts into motion mandatory changes to improve swimming pool and spa  safety for children and adults throughout the USA .  

Every drowning death and injury is preventable with necessary supervision and care in the construction, maintenance and operation of the pools and spas. The VGB Act mandates some changes in construction methods, safety devices and pool access but ultimately the most effective safety measures are increased education and supervision. While the VGB Act focuses on improving safety in publicly operated pools, residential pool proposals are also made. Major provisions of this legislation include:  

1.      Requiring that every public pool in the USA be equipped with anti-entrapment devices and systems.  

2.      Making grant funds available to states which adopt the Act’s provisions and establish new rules for public and residential pools within the state mandating additional basic access-related safety devices and equipment. The grant funds would be used to fund state enforcement of the requirements and to  develop and implement an educational program  to increase awareness of hazards and dangers of swimming and how to avoid them.  

In December, every operator of a public pool and/or spa in the USA is required to be in compliance with these new regulations. Two things are immediately affected; the suction drains and emergency shut-off of pumps.  Ways an operator can comply will involve at least one or a combination of these options:  

–         No main drain or other suction outlet that could entrap a person
–      Use ASME/ ANSI approved anti-vortex, drain covers that have been tested for UV light resistance, body and hair  entrapment/ entanglement, and flow rate compatibility with the pool or spa pump.
–         Dual main drains on a single pump with sufficient distance between them (at least 3 feet) so that no person may block both at the same time.  All drain covers must be of an ASME/ ANSI approved type
–         A single un-blockable main drain of such size and shape that a single person cannot block it
–         A gravity feed drainage system, with no suction.
–         A suction-limiting vent system
–         Drain disablement device or system
–         Automatic pump shut-off system. This can no longer be a system that
–         Requires a person to locate the switch and manually turn it off. It must be
–         Completely automatic and designed to operate at the first indication of drain  blockage.
–         Safety vacuum release system (SVRS)
–       There are many brands and designs for this type system. They include separate SVRS that can be installed on an existing pool system and systems for new pools that work in conjunction with the multiple drain.  

Some of the products needed to implement these provisions already are available and can be purchased now. Research and development of other methods continues by all the pool equipment manufacturers and some in the pool and spa construction business. How best to meet the requirements should be a matter determined on an individual pool or spa basis and with ample professional help. The legal and liability ramifications of failure to comply do not allow careless decision-making in how and  how quickly to come into compliance.

 Education  

In addition to the active and passive systems required for public pools and recommended for private pools, the VGB Act requires the development of an educational program to be implemented at the national and state level providing educational materials for all swimming pool professionals as well as owners and operators; and a national media campaign on swimming pool and spa safety. Grants are to be made available to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and to the states for this purpose.  

For any of the states to receive Federal grants under the VGB Act, they, too, must act.

A major provision under state law would include:  

– The enclosure of all outdoor residential pools and spas by barriers to entry that will effectively prevent small children from gaining unsupervised and unfettered access to the pool or spa. (15 USC 8005 Sec. 1406 (a)(1)(A)(i)). Such barriers would include, pool safety covers, gates (as currently required for public pools), fences, door alarms and pool alarms.

           – Equipping all pools and spas with anti-entrapment devices
           – New construction requirements for anti-entrapment
           – An educational program for pool and spa owners.  

Implementation of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act will take many years. Residential pool and spa owners can be pro-active and take the initiative by assessing the safety of their own installations and making the changes necessary to protect children and adults from a tragic and unnecessary drowning accident. Your local pool professional is ready and able to help you determine what you need to do and get the equipment to do it. Do not wait until an emergency happens; then, it is too late.

You can get more information and advice on swimming pool safety and entrapment products as well as other pool equipment such as pool filters, pumps, cleaners, and pool equipment parts at POOLplaza pool supplies