To truly grasp the uncertainty surrounding the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, you need only speak briefly with any government official, or even an aquatics industry representative.
The law is complicated. Some parts are explicit, while others were
left for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to interpret.
If you consider recent changes in the International Building
Codes and a multitude of state and local ordinances,
you’ve got a messy stew of deadlines, specifications and
To help you make sense of it all, here is a series of questions and
answers about the VGB Act. It should be noted that many aspects of
the law are still being clarified, leaving even industry experts in
the dark on some matters. We have made every effort to provide
accurate, up-to-date information. However, this material is subject
Q: Who will enforce the Pool and Spa Safety Act?
The act places enforcement authority and responsibility with the
CPSC. But with limited resources, the agency is relying on
assistance from state health departments. So enforcement of the
code depends on the individual state.
The CPSC administers the law’s implementation, but does not
have the manpower to enforce it. Enforcement will depend on the
capabilities of individual states.
In some cases, an act of the state legislature is required to
empower or compel the state’s health department to take on
the work. And some states are loath to spend their resources
enforcing a federal law. (Remember, the public portion is not part
of the grant program.)
But others place a premium on further safeguarding pools and
incidents on their watch. Some health departments may check for
compliance during their annual inspections. Several states already
have begun setting up enforcement systems, or expressed interest.
Those include Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota,
Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina.
Q: If enforcement is low, then why should I comply?
If a suction-entrapment incident takes place in a pool or spa, the
CPSC will deploy a representative to evaluate the vessel and
determine whether the law was followed.
The penalty for noncompliance is a subject of some confusion. The
Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act states that violators of
any law under CPSC’s jurisdiction are subject to fines of up
to $15 million and imprisonment.
But such penalties would be reserved for manufacturers caught
willfully breaching the law, says Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the
CPSC. In the case of aquatics operations, the penalty would more
likely be closure until the pool becomes compliant — unless a
state imposes other penalties.
“We would like to quell the rumors that CPSC is going to be
bringing million-dollar penalties and prison sentences against pool
or spa operators,” Wolfson says.
Nevertheless, a lack of compliance certainly will not help in the
case of a liability lawsuit. Because of this, some insurance
companies are beginning to take note of this law, and carriers soon
may demand compliance as a condition for insuring a pool.
Q: My state or local codes are different than the Pool and
Spa Safety Act. Which do I follow?
You must satisfy codes and laws from state and federal sources. For
in Florida still need to have VGB-compliant drain covers in
addition to the gravity drain systems required by that
state’s health department.
In some areas, local codes are more stringent than the federal law.
In that case, you can’t argue that the less-strict federal
law invalidates the local law. If your state’s building code
requires the installation of a safety vacuum release system or
similar device, that is not negated by the Pool and Spa Safety
Act’s lack of such a requirement.
If state or local regulations conflict with the federal law,
contact the appropriate health or building officials for guidance
on how to comply.
Q: When installing a new drain cover, may I just replace
the cover itself, or must I use the supplied mounting ring and
Unless you are absolutely sure that the cover is made to fit the
existing mounting, you should use all of the supplied hardware.
Fortunately, many of the covers come with kits, which allow
operators to drill, anchor, glue or bolt the covers in place.
Q: If a pool already has dual drains, can the covers be
rated to accept only half the system flow?
No. The cover must be able to withstand the full flow of the
system, in case one of the drains becomes blocked.
Q: If the pool uses gravity drainage, must it have compliant drain covers?
Q: What can I do on an older or custom-built public pool
with an oversized or field-fabricated main drain?
Smaller VGB-compliant drain covers are on the market. Round, 8-inch
versions came first, then 9-by-9-inch square drains were approved.
The larger 12-by-12-inch covers were made available on a limited
Covers measuring 18-by-18-inches and larger now are available as
Some manufacturers have created kits for placing a smaller cover
into a larger grate frame. This will only work, however, if the
smaller drain is rated to withstand the full flow of the system,
and the smaller openings allow enough flow to keep the pump primed.
State and local codes may not allow these smaller drains if the
velocity exceeds 11/2 feet per second or even lower in some
When using a pre-manufactured product over a field-fabricated sump,
follow all manufacturer instructions. They will indicate how much
flow can be generated through the drain while still maintaining the
maximum allowable velocity. This may require downsizing the pump.
Just make sure it can move the water fast enough to fulfill the
required turnover rates. If not, you may need a different drain
When reading the instructions, check to see how far the bottom of
the drain cover must sit above the pipe inside the sump. This is
key to ensuring that the suction is low enough. For
field-fabricated sumps measuring more than 18-by-23-inches, some
custom grating systems are being certified and are expected to
enter the market.
If no compliant covers are available for drains larger than
18-by-23-inches, pool owners and operators should hire registered
design professionals to evaluate the covers, their connections to
the sumps and their flow rates, to ensure the covers meet the
standard for field-fabricated covers and sumps described in ASME
Several aquatics facilities have submitted “requests for
enforcement discretion,” to buy time for older and customized
pools and waterparks, as well as pools with drains placed in deep
water. This would allow time for additional products to enter the
market, for more specially engineered solutions to become
available, and for municipal pools to undergo the funding process
for major retrofits. At press time, CPSC was evaluating these
Q: What, exactly, is meant by a registered design professional?
In its interpretation of the commercial portion of the law, the
CPSC did not specifically define this term. Instead, the agency
defers to the definition within each state of jurisdiction, based
on the definition in the ASME A112.19.8-2007 standard.
To discern what constitutes a registered design professional, call
your state’s health department. Most will require some sort
of licensed engineer.
That said, finding someone to take on the job might take a few
tries. Given the potential for liability, some professionals are
very wary of this type of work, and may be particularly gun-shy
about certifying that a field-fabricated outlet meets the
Q: No one produces a compliant drain cover that fits my
pool, but I expect they will. How do I prove that I’ve done
everything possible to comply with the law, in the absence of an
available drain cover that fits?
If your pool needs covers larger than 18-by-18-inches and
you’re waiting for compliant equipment to hit the streets,
don’t just sit on your hands. First, make any other necessary
changes. If you have single drains, or dual drains less than 3 feet
apart, either split the drains or outfit the pool with an SVRS,
suction-limiting vent, gravity drainage system or automatic pump
And document everything.
If a particular cover isn’t yet available, determine which
manufacturer will be offering it, place a back order for the
product and document it.
If a certified professional has been hired, put that in writing. If
finding a professional proves difficult, document every contact
made thus far. In addition, write down the date and content of
staff meetings where compliance is discussed.
Q: Are single, unblockable drains exempt from the
Yes. Drain sumps measuring more than 18-by-23-inches are considered
impossible to block by a human body. So they do not need a second
However, they do need a compliant cover.
Q: Our pool has multiple drains, but each is connected to
its own pump, which makes them functionally single main drains. We
are interested in using an SVRS to fix the problem. Do we need an
SVRS for each pump?
Yes. Each drain and pump connection must be treated separately and
receive its own SVRS.