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 stipulations.
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 to change.
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 preventing entrapment
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 instance, facilities
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 hardware?
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 basis.
Covers measuring 18-by-18-inches and larger now are available as well.
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 states.
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 cover.
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 A112.19.8-2007.
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 individual requests.
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 requirements.
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 shut-off.
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 dual-drain requirement?
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 drain.
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.