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How The Virginia Graeme Baker Act Impacts Pool Safety

swimming-pool-safety-laws-virginia-graeme-baker-act The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGBA) requires all pool and spa equipment equipped with entrapment-prevention technology. It is named after a 7-year-old girl who drowned in 2002 when her hair became caught in an uncovered drain at a hotel swimming pool while vacationing with her family.

At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, our personal injury attorneys are legal advocates for victims of swimming accidents and drownings harmed by another's negligence. We fight aggressively on our clients' behalf to ensure they receive justice and maximum compensation for their damages.

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In 2008, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Safety Act (VGBA) required new testing to enhance the life-saving law named after a seven-year-old victim who drowned when suctioned underwater in a hot tub drain.

The United States Congress passed the safety act to address multiple problems by mandating all public pools, hot tubs, and spas comply with ANSI/APSP/ICC-16 standards. In addition, the Act details the criteria for suction entrapment avoidance for pool drains and fittings used in conjunction with anti-entrapment drain covers or other devices that form an integral part of the drain assembly. Compliance was made mandatory no later than December 31, 2020.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the Act likely involves more than 300 million people who visit recreational water sites nationwide every year. Additionally, swimmers and other outdoor activists visit over 300,000 swimming pools at numerous aquatic venues across America.

Data released by the Pooling Hot Tub Alliance indicates that swimming remains one of the most popular outdoor recreational activities in the United States.

VGBA Set Strict Testing Requirements for Swimming Pool Products

In 2019, the Consumer Product Safety Commission endorsed all Virginia Graeme Baker Act revisions requiring extensive testing on certain Pool safety products. As a result, new pool equipment manufacturers must pass each item through a third-party inspection before receiving certification that meets or exceeds the law's strict standards.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission released additional information on VGBA revamped requirements for safe products to prevent suction entrapment injuries and deaths in pools and spas. The commission remains dedicated to enforcing the federal safety laws requiring all swimming pool products from public use facilities to be inspected by trained professionals.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission provides specific instructions for testing suction entrapment avoidance devices or SEDs. It includes how they should be inspected and why.

Those companies seeking Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act certification must demonstrate their products can withstand more than 700 lbs of pressure to verify their durability and ability to prevent drain entrapment in swimming pools.

Additionally, they must prove their products can endure more than 1.5 million closure cycles in a 12-inch diameter throat and the equivalent of 1,000 lbs of pull force in a 24-inch diameter throat. Although standard drain covers must pass the same requirements, they are not required to complete the throttling test.

Pool owners should check with pool service companies to learn what products they currently use in their pools. The Consumer Product Safety Commission requires all existing safety equipment to maintain the certification until December 31, 2020.

After this date, all public pools and spas must comply with the certification requirements of VGBA or risk a fine for violations.

Third-Party Inspectors Before Introduction Must test suction Capabilities into Marketplace

According to CPSC, surface skimmers must meet a new performance standard to reduce lacerations, amputations, and other related risks while regularly maintaining activities like swimming or recreational bathing. In addition, if skimmer entanglement hazards exist, the pool owner must either remove the unblockable drain covers and add drain covers that provide a protective barrier.

It also applies to other suction outlets in and around a swimming pool that consumers can reasonably access without significant effort. These include vacuum lines, main drains, pump intakes, diving board hydraulic systems, and water slide plumbing vents.

The VGBA requires companies to market products that pose no risk of entrapment. Independent third-party inspectors can only conduct the testing with the proper qualifications and experience in this field. Pool owners looking for reputable inspection services should ask their pool service company for names of certified professionals familiar with suction system safety standards.

CPSC and Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act advise pool owners and service personnel to ensure their equipment or products meet all applicable VGBA certification standards before purchasing them. They should never rely on the manufacturer's claims alone.

CPSC also recommends swimming pool professionals test, repair, and restore any suction outlet in the water before putting anyone at risk for entrapment. It only takes one minute for a SED to malfunction and cause serious bodily harm or death.

CPSC lists these ways of testing your equipment:

  • Stick the end of the hose into the skimmer, main drain, or any other suction system that someone at risk can feasibly access without significant effort. Then, allow water to circulate through it.
  • Apply air pressure via the hose to verify whether or not the system can hold back more than 1 inch of water for at least 30 seconds without releasing it. The test must ensure that no additional leaks form during this time frame.
  • Finally, perform the same pressurized test on underwater equipment you can't access with a hose to ensure it doesn't leak water and air.
  • Pool owners and service personnel should take these simple steps before starting suction system maintenance or testing:
  • Ensure all children and non-essential people are clear of the equipment's immediate area.
  • Securely cover any drains not in use if they can feasibly pose a risk to anyone in the pool.
  • After finishing your task, thoroughly check for leaks or possible entrapment hazards before letting anyone back in the water.

You will avoid potentially dangerous situations when doing maintenance work on your swimming pool or spa when you follow these steps. While taking the time to complete this relatively simple checklist may seem time-consuming, the safety of your family and friends outweighs any inconvenience.

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act has a detailed list of industry regulations on its website. If you have questions about these regulations or how they might apply to your home pool system, contact Pool Safely for more information.

In addition, the EPA is working with local governments in several states and communities to expand automatic pool covers. EPA provides $1 million in grants to these localities to develop and issue construction and operation safety guidelines for new and existing deck-mounted suction outlets.

Safety Tips to Prevent Suction Entrapment Injuries

The CPSC offers advice on how to reduce the risk of suction drain injuries. In addition, the following safety tips can be used by pool and spa owners and service personnel to keep pool-goers safe from unintentional but easily preventable incidents.

  • Test all equipment that generates negative pressures weekly involving any outdoor or indoor structure. It includes main drains, suction fittings (vacuum breaker or air eliminator), vacuum lines, automatic pump shut-off assemblies, diving board attachments, and water slide plumbing vents.
  • Do not let children play near any of these devices without adult supervision. Maintain a three-foot radius around them at all times to avoid accidents.
  • Inspect your pool system for leaks or damage monthly, especially if you see standing water in the area of the suction fitting. Repairing tears, breaks, or holes in pool plumbing or equipment immediately will prevent serious injuries.
  • Install a spa drain cover over your pool when it is not used to eliminate the risk of anyone falling in and becoming trapped by a suction fitting. If you do not have drain covers, remove the drain plug from your skimmer so children cannot fall in and be sucked down into the filter system.
  • Keep young swimmers away from water slides when the pumps run to avoid a suction outlet flow blockage. Tell children to stick their hands straight out in front and keep their heads above the surface when using a slide while the pump is operating. Water pressure may force one or both of their hands into the suction fitting located at the end of the slide.
  • Never allow children to use a pool or spa without adult supervision. Adults should only swim in areas where they can touch the bottom of the pool with their feet.
  • Do not use suction fittings that have been modified in any way from their original design or contain add-ons such as weight belts, ropes, and pull buoys.
  • Do not place diving boards and water slides near main drains, suction outlets, or other equipment that can generate negative pressures. For example, suction fittings that aren't properly vented to outside air pressure can create strong suction forces that result in injury if someone is pulled into the opening of these devices.
  • Never try to retrieve an object that has fallen into the pool by tying a rope around your waist and attempting to dive down to get it. Even if you can locate the object or person, the power of the suction may be too great for you to pull yourself free once you've found them.
  • Do not kneel on dry pool surfaces adjacent to suction outlets. The weight of your body on the concrete surrounding these openings can generate strong inward suction forces that may cause serious injury.
  • Never allow children to play with a strong suction force, such as in skimmer boxes or around main drains in the pool bottom. They are especially at risk for falling into these openings and suffering suction entrapment injuries.

Cover spa drains when the spas are not used to eliminate the risk of someone falling in and becoming trapped by a suction fitting. If you do not have a cover, install one immediately!

Swimming Pool Product Manufacturers Increasing Responsibility

Since the Act was in force in 2008, the change placed a heavy burden on swimming pool product manufacturers due to the extensive and much stricter testing required to manufacture, market, and sell their products.

The CPSC continues to educate consumers about the potential dangers of pool drain covers, but it is now the responsibility of manufacturers and importers to provide information on their products. They should include that information in their user manuals as well as on product labels and packaging materials.

  • Is a cover or a plug required?
  • What size should the suction fitting be?
  • How many suction fittings are there on the drain cover?
  • Where should they be positioned?

The manufacturers should also advise if their products comply with any standards. For example, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) published an amendment in 2010 that developed "Safety Standard for Suction Entrapment Avoidance" regulations to address the drain suction hazards in residential pools and spas.

Although not a federal requirement in the US, this standard is already in force in 90 countries worldwide following ASME A112.19.8-2007 / CSA B125.1-08, which deals with safety requirements for pressure-retaining accessories in plumbing systems.

Safety Vacuum Release System and Suction Limiting Vent System

According to the American National Standard for Suction Outlet Fitting Assemblies (SOFA), a safety vacuum release system (SVRS) should be used in pools and spas to reduce or eliminate injuries and deaths by "entrapment between the drain cover and the pool wall because of negative pressure, which has been created in part by a high-suction outlet or system malfunctions."

It's important to know that most safety vacuum release systems are not automatic. Instead, they require that the user activate the system to open the cover, thus preventing any accidents if someone is being sucked into a pool drain because of malfunctioning equipment.

  • Most pools with an installed SVRS have an indicator specifying where it has been placed and alerting people when it is safe to enter the pool area.
  • The cover must be self-latching with an automatic latching device, or it should include a system that closes the cover upon removal of the disconnect device;
  • The safety vacuum release system (plunger subassembly) must fit within the standard plumbing fixture envelope (depth less than 12 inches). Its suction control system must comply with ASME A112.19.17 and CSA B125.1;
  • The suction limiting vent system must include a vacuum release mechanism that will open the cover when the plunger is depressed by a force of not more than 22 pounds (10 kilograms) to ensure children cannot open it;
  • It should open when a maximum in situ pressure of 0.5 inches in water (1.3 cm) in the cover is reached, which makes it impossible for a person to be injured by being sucked into the drain;
  • The safety vacuum release plunger must have a safe means to access its internal mechanism from outside the private or public pool or spa, which means a person can be rescued if they are accidentally sucked into a suction outlet.
  • The mechanism's weight must not exceed 3 pounds (1.3 kilograms);
  • The anti-entrapment device must involve at least one drain disablement system, one automatic pump shut-off system, one gravity drainage system, one suction limiting vent system, or a safety vacuum release system;
  • It must include a vacuum release system capable of opening the cover when the plunger is depressed by a force of no more than 22 pounds (10 kilograms).

Many of these requirements are included in a new ASME standard on suction outlet fittings ready by the end of 2011.

Gravity Drainage

A family can be assured that a child or pet cannot be accidentally pulled into the plumbing drains using a collector tank attached to a gravity drainage system. In cases where the pool is not plumbed to a collector, as an alternative solution, a separate heavy-duty drain for sewage and other wastes should be installed in the pool deck within sight of the private or public pool.

This system must have two separate 1.5-inch drains, spaced a minimum of 6 inches apart, and can be opened by pulling a cord attached to the cover. In addition, the cover must have a sign reading, "Warning: To prevent serious injury or death do not permit children to play near this drain. Unclog and maintain in good working condition."

An important requirement is that all pools and spas have a drain cover or other device with a recessed drain fitting so it cannot be removed entirely from the pool while using it. Moreover, it prevents small children from being sucked into the plumbing drains while playing near the pool.

A gravity drainage system will not prevent a child from being sucked into the drain if they lean against it or if multiple suction outlets are used.

Hiring a Premises Liability Attorney to Resolve Your Compensation Lawsuit

Were you injured, or did you lose a loved one through the wrongful death of another's negligence? Did the accident involve swimming pool products that led to harm, injury, or death?

At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, our premises liability attorneys will fight for you and your family to deserve the compensation you. In addition, our attorneys will help determine if product liability claims need to be filed against the product's manufacturer, distributor, or seller to get recourse for your damages.

Our premises liability lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. They will review all of the evidence secured by our seasoned private investigators and build a case that gets you the compensation you deserve for your injuries or the wrongful death of a loved one.

Contact our law firm today by calling (888) 424-5757 to schedule your free, no-obligation legal consultation on your products liability case and learn more about how we can help resolve your personal injury lawsuit.

We represent clients throughout the United States, including Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Tennessee.

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