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Bottom Line: The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act will dramatically change the way pools/spas are maintained and constructed in the U.S.

Home Safety

By Alan Korn
Director of Public Policy & General Counsel
Safe Kids USA
April 2009

With Memorial Day just around the corner, public pools nationwide will be opening their waters for business. Memorial Day traditionally signals the start of the summer season, and it also marks another important milestone: the time for all public pools and spas across the country to comply with the new federal law, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act.

Signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 19, 2007, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act will fundamentally change the way pools and spas are used and maintained in the U.S. The law is named in honor of Graeme Baker, the 7-year old granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker, who drowned in 2002 when the powerful suction of drain entrapped her underwater. Her heartbreaking death brought national attention to the hidden hazard of entrapment, a little known form of drowning that has taken the lives of at least 33 children ages 14 and under, as well as injured nearly 100 children, from 1985 to 2004.

Public health authorities agree that the installation of safeguards, like anti-entrapment drain covers, safety vacuum release systems and barriers/fences, can effectively protect children from the potential dangers of pools and spas. Safe Kids USA was proud to work with the Baker family on an advocacy effort to ensure the tragic circumstances surrounding Graeme’s death did not happen to another child. The law requires the following:

Installation of proper safety devices in public pools/spas

  • Each public pool and spa must be equipped with anti-entrapment drain covers.
  • Public pools and spas with a single main drain (other than an unblockable drain) must also be equipped with a secondary device or system designed to prevent entrapment, like a safety vacuum release system.
  • Public pools and spas are defined as those that are open to the public generally (like those in apartment complexes, hotels/motels, or run by local governments).

Creation of a federal swimming pool and spa drain cover standard

  • The law provides for a federal product safety standard so that drain covers available in the marketplace protect against entrapment incidents.

Establishment of a state law grant incentive program

  • The law establishes a CPSC-administered grant program to provide an incentive for states to enact strong pool and spa safety laws. In order to qualify for a grant, the state law must meet minimum requirements set by the CPSC, such as enclosure of all outdoor residential pools and spas by barriers that will effectively prevent children from gaining access and being equipped with devices that prevent entrapment

Public education about drowning prevention

  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the federal government agency responsible for the law’s implementation, is required to conduct a national public education effort to help prevent drowning and entrapment in pools and spas. Educational materials and a media campaign will be a part of this initiative.

As safety advocates, you have a critical role in promoting water safety:

Examine the pools/spas in your communities and when you are traveling to make sure that they are properly equipped to protect children from drowning. All public pools and spas that are now open must already be in compliance with the law. Those that open this summer must comply when they re-open.

Spread the word about the new law and its requirements for public pools/spas.

Advocate for the enactment of a comprehensive pool/spa safety law in your state.

This law will no doubt result in important safety devices being installed in pools and spas across the U.S., which will, in turn, save lives and prevent horrific injuries. As with any law, there is a tremendous need for awareness and proper implementation. The support of public educators is vital to spread the word about proper safety practices as well as to help enact state laws. For safety checklists geared toward parents, kids and pool/spa owners, visit Safe Kids’ water safety website at: www.usa.safekids.org/water/pool.html. More detailed information is also available on the CPSC’s website at: www.cpsc.gov/businfo/vgb/poolspa.aspx.

Download the Home Safety Council’s pool security and maintenance safety guide.

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