Many service technicians are no longer comfortable performing work meant to bring about compliance with the Virginia Graeme Baker Act. Some avoid it as much as possible.
“It’s a nightmare. Why would anyone want to do it?” said Kevin Wallace, president of San Diego-based Underwater Unlimited Inc., who only performs the work under strict conditions.
Last May, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled up to 1 million drain covers that had been stamped as VGB-compliant. Further action came in September, when the agency tightened the criteria for unblockable drains, stipulating that those not meeting the new requirements must be retrofitted by May 28, 2012.
Techs cite a number of reasons for not wanting to do the work, including long delays getting reimbursed by manufacturers of the drain covers. “There is some concern,” said Jim Von Allmen, owner of AAA Pool Maintenance in Camarillo, Calif. “I’ve done a bunch of them already. Some of them I got paid for, some of them I didn’t.”
When the check does come, often the amount isn’t sufficient to cover the work that was performed, professionals say. There also have been arguments about whether some retrofits are reimbursable if, for instance, the recall guidelines were changed in midstream or misunderstood.
But often, concerns go beyond the immediate bottom line. Some techs fear the CPSC will institute more changes, invalidating any work done this year, others are worried about liability. They performed VGB work to comply with the language of the time, but question what might happen now the stipulations have changed.
If CPSC does another about-face and there is an accident, to what standard will the court hold companies?
“The rules keep changing,” said Steve Dunn, vice president of Commercial Pool Systems Inc., a distributor based in Martinez, Calif. “A lot of [techs] have made the decision not to do any more VGB work because the liability has become even greater than it was originally.”
Other professionals are suffering VGB fatigue brought on by inconsistencies between CPSC requirements and local health department directives. Ironically, some of the most burned out are those who were most vehement about compliance before the 2008 deadline. “I’ve completely stopped doing it,” said Jib Bowe, a technician who at first embraced the law and sought every available opportunity to learn about compliance.
“Since [the law] changes on a daily basis, companies are not paying to do retrofits on the voluntary recall covers,” said Bowe, manager of Bay Pool Systems in Monterey, Calif. “The best we can do is educate people and let them find somebody on their own.”
Among technicians who are accepting VGB jobs, many have found that some pools previously certified as compliant were not properly retrofitted in the first place. “You can’t just put on a new approved cover if it’s not in compliance to begin with. If you put on a retrofit cover and walk away, then you own it — you’re liable,” said Wallace.
As a result, a number are only accepting VGB jobs within certain restrictions. Wallace and others only perform work if the facility owner agrees to a complete pool inspection and is willing to pay for any other work needed to bring the pool into true compliance.
“If they’re our client,s and we did the past VGB work, we’ll do it, if we’re pressured,” said Richard Dietz Sr., president of Aqua Creations in Ventura, Calif. “We’re not offering.”