The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act may not be the only new law for the industry over the coming year. Besides this federal legislation, state laws are pending or in effect in California, Maryland, Missouri and Wisconsin. Experts say these mandates may be the first of many, especially as the Model Aquatic Health Code takes shape.
But the biggest incentive is the federal law, which includes $2 million in grants to divide among states that develop regulations to implement the new law; public facilities have one year to comply.
?Although the financial incentive in the federal legislation for states to adopt higher safety standards is small, the message is big,? said Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D., CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation.
Historically, pool industry products and construction have been regulated federally through the Environmental Protection Agency, OSHA and other agencies. Pool regulations have been under state and local health department codes. This is the first federal law for public pools.
Lachocki added that currently few states except California and Florida are in compliance with the new federal regulations.
Lachocki believes more regulations are inevitable because states regularly review their codes and it is in their best interest to align with federal standards.
?Our challenge is to raise our standards ourselves, so that we?re not forced to do so by someone who may be less knowledgeable,? he said.
Chris Brewster, president of the United States Lifesaving Association, agreed: ?The federal legislation demonstrated that industry self-regulation hasn?t worked.? He suggested that one reason may be the increase in privately owned pools and waterparks. ?As public [municipal] pools have been cut back, some of the need has been met by private pools and waterparks. With these facilities, there?s no recourse if things go bad.?
Lachocki echoed that sentiment: ?Even the federal government believes that the pool and spa safety record is not good enough. It would have been ideal [had we] stayed ahead of legislators.?
Alison Osinski, principal of Aquatic Consulting Services in San Diego also believes that the industry will see more regulation. She says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?s Model Aquatic Health Code may be another impetus for new rules. ?We?re going to see a lot of change in residential pool market [as a result of the Pool and Spa Safety Act],? she said.
?But in the commercial market, I think most agencies and operators are waiting on the Model Aquatic Health Code to make changes.?
Here?s a closer look at what?s happening in the way of aquatics legislation as of press time.
California Following the drowning of a 4-year-old, Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose) proposed SB 107 to create statewide safety standards for wave pools and require operators to provide free Coast Guard-approved life vests for nonswimmers and children under 48 inches. It mandates that children be accompanied by an adult and requires audible warning signals immediately before breaking wave action resumes. In addition, the bill calls for signage indicating requirements at the park entrance and on-duty lifeguards able to respond to distress within 20 seconds.
Maryland Del. James King (R- Gambrills) introduced HB 204, which would require public or recreational pools to have one lifeguard on duty for every group of 25 persons or fewer in the water. The bill is named ?Connor?s Law? after Connor Freed, a 5-year-old who drowned in a country club pool in June 2006.
Missouri Introduced by Rep. Marilyn Ruestman, (R-Joplin), HB 1341 or ?Ethan?s Law? would require that all privately owned, for-profit aquatics facilities carry at least $1 million in liability insurance. The bill includes a provision mandating fines and penalties for noncompliance and is named after Ethan Cory, a 6-year-old who drowned on a trip to The Swimmin? Hole waterpark in Joplin, Mo., last summer. Ruestman hopes to see the legislation in place for the 2009 swim season, and expects more aquatics industry regulation.
Wisconsin Officials recently updated the state codes. New Department of Health and Family Services rules require pool operators to report major incidents to the state and expand existing regulations to include wave pools, lazy rivers, vortex pools and activity pools. However, the new rules do not mandate annual inspections.