The Consumer Product Safety Commission has begun rolling out two final mandates of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. The first is an educational campaign to reduce child drownings and entrapments. It was slated for a soft launch at April’s National Drowning Prevention Symposium .The second is a $2 million grant program encouraging states to enact rules for residential pools.

The education program, spearheaded by Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm Widmeyer Communications, will focus on practical information, empowering messages and personal responsibility, according to documents prepared and distributed by Widmeyer. Specifics of the federally funded effort were still being finalized in the weeks before the Symposium but a March meeting with representatives from several partner organizations offered a  campaign preview. 

   “I thought it was encouraging,” said Thomas Lachocki, Ph.D., CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colo., a summit  participant. “There really is a spirit of collaboration to empower organizations throughout our field, and I think one of the real keys is going to be consistency in messaging ... ”

The nationwide campaign will touch five channels: Aquatics, campaign partners (including nonprofits, advocacy groups and public health agencies), consumers, the media, and  governments. Activities are set to begin in May.

To identify the most effective messaging strategies Widmeyer conducted research  and learned about target audiences via interviews and focus groups.

Among the findings:

  • Consumers are enthusiastic about pools and spas, and their past experiences and enjoyment seem to outweigh concern over drowning or entrapment.
  • The VGB law is mostly unknown by consumers.
  • A positive, empowering message is most promising.
  • “Real people” as spokespeople and news media attention are key to best attract consumers.
  • For CPSC’s public safety campaign, existing industry channels may be the best ways to promote compliance.

“We want to make sure we’re pushing strategies that will work,” said Julie Gilchrist, M.D., medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, another coalition partner.

The VGBA state grant eligibility program focuses mainly on encouraging states to enact rules regarding residential pools. The Minimum Eligibility Criteria for the States to Apply for a P&SS Act Grant requires states have a statute calling for all pools and spas to be equipped with barriers and entrapment prevention devices. The application deadline date is May 28, 2010.  Additional information and links can be found atpoolsafety.gov/officials.html.