As we have repeatedly said in prior issues, there are serious hazards associated with pool and spa drains. Children, and sometimes adults – even strong swimmers – can get sucked in by a pool or spa drain, trapping them underwater until they drown or, in some cases, are disemboweled. Unfortunately, children and many adults don’t appreciate these risks. To prevent those accidents, Congress passed the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act in 2007. As you may recall, Virginia, the seven-year-old granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker, died in a hot tub in Northern Virginia in 2002 after getting trapped by the drain. This law has been on the books now for almost four years. Is it working as planned?
Pool safety advocates now say – some four years later – that the law’s not working as they had hoped. We mentioned in the June issue the pre-Memorial Day recall of more than 1 million pool drain covers designed to fix the problem. That recall only underscores how messy the implementation of the law has become. Nancy Baker, the mother whose lobbying efforts were largely responsible for getting the badly-needed law passed, had this to say:
You have a lot of pool owners that did work to become compliant, only to find out maybe it’s not safe after all. The implementation of it, how else can I put it? It’s just been botched.
The recall was the latest of many setbacks for the sponsors of the pool safety law. The law was supposed to award more than $4 million in grants for states to bring their pool safety codes up to federal standards. To this day, not one state, including Alabama, has followed through on this requirement. Members of Congress complain that the Consumer Product Safety Commission undermined the law by eliminating the requirement for automatic drain shut-off switches as an additional layer of protection in some pools. Industry groups, without any real justification, took the position that the switches were unnecessary.
According to Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, the law’s sponsor in the Senate, the decision by the CPSC “runs counter to both the spirit and letter” of the law. He certainly should know. Sen. Pryor and five other U.S. Senators wrote in a letter to the CPSC: “In single drain pools, no drain cover — no matter how large or unblockable — can protect a child from entrapment if the drain cover is improperly installed or inadvertently removed.”
Clearly, one of the biggest hurdles for the safety agency has been enforcement. The CPSC can’t provide statistics on how many inspections have been done, but published a paperwork notice in 2009 estimating it would conduct 97 a year. Since then, the agency has contracted out with 16 state and local health departments to do more than 2,800 inspections, costing as much as $400 each. Those contracts cover less than 1% of the 300,000 commercial pools in the United States. Neither does that include residential pools and spas. It was reported they number more than 16 million, according to industry data compiled by P.K. Data Inc.
The CPSC says it doesn’t have the resources to educate this entire industry and let it exactly know what the law requires. But the mandate to the agency is clear, and that is, every single pool and spa in the country must be in compliance with the Act. The pool companies must be told exactly what they have to do. It appears what they have to do hasn’t gotten through to the companies. The recall incident shows that to be true. An investigation by the CPSC, the safety agency with the responsibility of enforcement, found that the testing laboratories that certified drain covers as meeting safety standards applied those standards inconsistently and incorrectly, meaning many of the covers may be unsafe for the pools they’re installed in. This is a major safety issue which must be addressed.
Source: USA Today
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