In the last several years, the federal government has been playing a larger role in aquatic rules and regulations.

Today’s operators must understand how these federal laws and guidelines apply to their facilities or risk liability.

As you prepare for the new swim season, here’s a look at three major federal edicts and what they mean to you.

1. Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA set minimum standards for newly constructed and existing swimming pools, wading pools and spas to make them accessible to people with disabilities. The Department of Justice is the federal agency charged with enforcing the ADA. These requirements went into effect March 15, 2012.

All public entities, schools and municipalities are required to meet ADA guidelines. This includes public accommodation facilities such as hotels, bed and breakfasts, time shares, and vacation homes that operate as hotels.

Though the ADA does not affect private or residential property, it could still be considered a public accommodation if it allows members and nonresidents use of the facility. Condominiums and homeowners associations may have to comply with the ADA if units are rented and availability is advertised.

Private clubs (those with restrictive memberships) typically are not required to comply with ADA. However, if the pool is open to nonmembers, then they must comply. States may be more stringent if they so choose.

The standards establish two categories of pools: Large pools with more than 300 linear feet of pool wall require two accessible means of entry — either pool lifts or sloped entries.

Smaller pools require one accessible means of entry — either a pool lift or a sloped entry.

Effective March 15, all existing or newly constructed facilities must comply with the 2010 ADA standards. On this date, anyone can file a complaint or lawsuit if they think a facility should have accessibility and it does not.

In most localities, any new construction or building modification will not receive a certificate of occupancy without meeting ADA requirements. States may adopt the latest guidelines into their local codes if they choose. For further information, contact the ADA information line at 800.514.0301.

2. Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act. As of December 19, 2008, all operating public pools and spas must have suction outlet covers that meet the ANSI/ASME A112.19.8 (2007) standard, or any successor standard. On July 27, 2011, the Consumer Product Safety Commission unanimously approved ANSI/APSP 16-2011 as the successor suction outlet cover standard, which pool operators need to follow be in compliance with the VGB Act. This standard is virtually identical to ANSI/ASME A112.19.8 and its two addenda.

In addition to the suction outlet cover requirement, if the pool has a single suction outlet (other than an unblockable suction outlet), the operator must install a second anti-entrapment device or system. A secondary system can be an automatic pump shut-off system, gravity drainage system, safety vacuum release system (SVRS), or a suction-limiting vent system. The operator also can disable the drain, taking into consideration the pool’s filtration system and the regulations within the particular jurisdiction.

If a pool has dual or multiple suction outlets (per pump) that are separated by at least 3 feet or located on different planes, it may be exempt from the secondary backup device or system requirement.

In September 2011, CPSC revoked the April 2010 interpretation of an unblockable drain. As a result, an unblockable suction outlet cover can no longer be used to convert a blockable suction outlet to an unblockable suction outlet. A single suction outlet of a blockable size must be equipped with a secondary anti-entrapment device or system.

If the pool has an unblockable-sized drain cover installed over a blockable-sized drain/suction outlet, one of the approved secondary anti-entrapment devices or systems needs to be added in order to be in compliance with the current interpretations.

CPSC has set a compliance date of May 28, 2012.

3. Model Aquatic Health Code. Since 1978, the number of recreational water-associated waterborne disease outbreaks reported annually has increased dramatically. Public health investigations have revealed that many of these diseases can be prevented by proper maintenance and water treatment, and more modern disease prevention practices.

The MAHC is intended to serve as a tool for local and state agencies interested in adopting or revising public health laws related to the prevention of illness and injury associated with recreational water. It is the state and local environmental public health agencies that are best suited to respond to the health and safety needs and prevent outbreaks at aquatics facilities.

The MAHC is the product of a collaborative effort between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and dozens of expert volunteers in recreational water health and safety. These experts were drawn from a wide variety of stakeholders, including the federal government, state and local health departments, manufacturers, industry, operators, academia, certification organizations, and nonprofit aquatic associations.

By adopting the MAHC, state and local governments will modernize their outdated, antiquated policies, ensuring less drowning, fewer injuries, lessened chemical exposures,  and fewer hospitalizations, and calls to paramedics. Owners and operators will reduce their legal exposure from injuries at their facilities, and possibly lower their insurance costs by having trained employees.

The MAHC is a tool that state and local agencies can use to update their own codes, should they choose to do so, but carries no regulatory authority. Jurisdictions are not required to adopt the MAHC. It is not a federal law like ADA or the VGB Act. Jurisdictions can adopt it entirely, parts of it, or decide not to adopt it at all.

Even if a jurisdiction does not adopt the MAHC, it likely will become the de facto standard of care for the aquatics industry. If a facility follows the MAHC, it provides an affirmative defense, indicating that the facility is meeting the foremost standard of care. Adoption of the MAHC by states and local governments helps the aquatics industry and communities by providing a preventive standard that precludes waterborne disease outbreaks, leads to fewer injuries and ultimately less liability. Read more on the MAHC modules