You’ve spent countless hours attending to the needs of your patrons — ensuring good times as they careen down huge water slides, splash in gigantic wave pools or methodically execute their workouts. You make sure the water isn’t too cold for the early-morning water aerobics class, or that tenants or hotel guests aren’t complaining about elevated chlorine levels.
While you take pool safety very seriously and pay close attention to detail, you may not realize that the deadline for compliance with some of the most significant pool and spa safety legislation in U.S. history is rapidly approaching.
Last December, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act was signed into law to help prevent drowning and entrapment deaths and injuries in commercial pools — making Dec. 19, 2008, the deadline for compliance. Whether you manage a huge waterpark or an aquatics facility with an Olympic-size pool — or are the owner/operator of a tiny bed and breakfast — time is running out.
Failure to comply has consequences. Not only do you risk your pool being closed, but willful noncompliance also may result in civil and criminal penalties, including imprisonment and fines up to $1.8 million. Fortunately, products are available to quickly and cost-effectively bring most pools into compliance.
Many facilities will need to start with drain covers. The drain covers (suction outlet) on pools, spas, and wading or diving pools at your facility will need to be replaced with ones that meet the very specific requirements of the ASME/ANSI A112.19.8-2007. That is the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Drain covers tested and listed to the ASME/ANSI A112.19.8-2007 Standard for suction fittings for use in swimming pools, wading pools, spas and hot tubs are compliant with the federal Pool and Spa Safety Act. The “2007” is crucially important because that is the most recent standard referenced by the Act. Drain covers were not approved and available for sale before mid-2008.
You must identify manufacturers, size and rated flow of your existing drains and drain covers. With the manufacturers identified, confirm the appropriate replacement drain covers on the manufacturers’ Website. Suction outlets and covers are available in a range of shapes and sizes that will meet the requirements of most public pools and spas.
If you have a sump-type drain, make sure you can retrofit the appropriate drain cover or you’ll have to replace the entire unit with one that is listed. You might consider using a certified diver to inspect and replace your drain cover or suction outlet.
Once installed, check the drain covers for loose screws or damage on a regular basis. Approved drain covers are embossed with a rated life, typically seven years. Its scheduled replacement should be recorded in a conspicuous place.
After you’ve identified the drain covers and made or scheduled the appropriate replacements, your next course of action will be determined by the suction plumbing configurations, and the quantity and type of drain(s). You should be focused on single main drains supplying a pump. Multiple drains, each connected to a dedicated pump, are each considered single drains. Drains with centers located within 3 feet of each other, are considered a single drain. Skimmers or skim gutters are not considered a second main drain.
Unblockable drains will prevent a human body from being entrapped by suction. An unblockable drain is a suction outlet designed so that a torso 18-inches-by-23-inches could not block the outlet. These drains have a diagonal measure of 29 inches or more and are tested using the procedures in ASME/ANSI A112.19.8. They may stand on their own as a single drain, but still must be certified for UV testing; maximum flow rate; strength testing; and hair limb and finger entrapment.
Pools or spas with multiple, adequately spaced drains supplying each pump are compliant. Dual/multiple drains must be at least 3 feet apart, measured from the center of one drain cover to the center of the other drain cover. Because the plumbing connecting the multiple suction outlets and the pump are important for proper operation, the U.S.Consumer Product Safety Commission states that the installation should be certified by a design professional and inspected by a licensed inspector to ensure hydraulic balance between outlets and the main suction line to the pumps.
However, if you have a single main drain at the bottom of your pool, as is the case with many older pools, at least one or more of the following additional anti-entrapment devices or systems may be required.
1. Safety vacuum release system (SVRS). It ceases operation of the pump, reverses the circulation flow or provides a vacuum release at a suction outlet when a blockage is detected. SVRS’s must be tested by an independent third party and conform to ASME/ANSI Standard A112.19.17 or ASTM Standard F2387. These products are designed and manufactured for easy installation on new or existing installations.
2. Suction-limiting vent system. Also called an atmospheric vent, this system introduces air into the suction line, thus causing the pump to lose prime and reduce the suction force at the main drain in the event of a suction line blockage. Generally installed during construction, the correct design and construction of the suction-limiting vent system should be certified by a design professional and inspected by a licensed inspector.
3. Gravity drainage system. This device, also referred to as a reservoir, surge tank or surge pit, uses a collector tank with a separate water storage vessel from which the pump draws water. Water moves from the pool to the tank due to atmospheric pressure, limiting drain suction forces. Typical in Florida and commonly used for skim gutters, gravity drainage systems most often are installed at the time of construction.
4. Automatic pump shut-off system. A device that senses a drain blockage and shuts off the pump system. Some SVRS devices may meet this definition.
5. Drain disablement. The CPSC is unaware of any product currently available as a drain disablement system. If the circulation system is designed to work effectively without the main drain(s), you can fill the sump with concrete or permanently disable the suction line from the drain to the pump.
While any of the above may work, significant downtime and a costly reconstruction of the plumbing and/or pool is required for some options. As it stands, the quickest and most cost-effective way to retrofit your pool may be to use an SVRS. Most can be installed and activated in one to three hours by a trained installer.
As with the drain covers and suction outlets, when considering an SVRS, make sure the device meets or exceeds all relevant ASME/ANSI performance standards. Confirm that your SVRS selection is compatible with the higher pump horsepowers common for many public pools. Consider requirements for manual or automatic resetting in the event the SVRS is activated when a change in suction pressure is detected. Systems are available with manual restart or automatic restart in protection mode. Only brief interruptions in water circulation may be tolerated by local health departments, and extended operation of pool pumps without water flow may void pump manufacturer warranties.
Study your options by visiting manufacturers’ Web sites. All information presented in this summary is, of necessity, general in nature and not intended as a recommendation or prescription in any specific circumstances. If you are unsure which type of drain cover you require or need advice on the compliancy of your current drain system, consult your pool service technician. They can examine your facility and identify the best retrofit options for your application, but the time to act is now.
For public pools that remain open through the winter, the Dec. 19 deadline is looming. Manufacturer, distributor and installer capacity may not satisfy demand if everyone waits for December. Likewise, the 2009 pre-Memorial Day onslaught for summer public pools will coincide with peak demands of the regular season.
Review your facility’s pools and spas, and schedule improvements before inspection is imminent. Remember, failure to comply has serious consequences.