Coming Into Compliance

As spring kicks off and the temperature starts to heat up, parks and recreation departments across the country are peeling off swimming pool covers and preparing for the upcoming season. This year, however, the Virginia Graeme Baker (VGB) Act may delay those plans for some agencies.

Enacted as an anti-entrapment protection bill to protect swimmers, public facilities are forced to comply with the regulations, but what does that mean? And what will happen if a pool is not in compliance of the VGB Act? Tom Lachocki, CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation, touches on some of the issues plaguing public pool operators and facilities.

1. How will the act be enforced? Who is responsible?

Ultimately the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is responsible for enforcing the act. The CPSC has published information suggesting that state attorney generals can enforce the law, too. Some health departments plan to inspect and close non-compliant pools. Other health departments are analyzing their legal authority. Others remain unaware or do not intend to enforce the act. Since both the CPSC and state attorney generals have many important demands on their time, it is not clear what they will do. However, if there is an entrapment incident, both agencies are likely to act. This is tragic since the tenor of the law is to prevent entrapment through education and improve engineering controls.

2. What would be the punishment for those who don’t comply? What are the ramifications? Will they just shut down facilities for not complying?

There is a lot of ambiguity on the punishment. If a health department enforces this law, it is likely that they will close the pool if it does not comply. If there is an injury or death, then the rules all change. The CPSC has the legal authority to impose millions of dollars in penalties. It remains to be seen how aggressive they will be. Whenever an accident happens, facilities face legal liability–failure to comply will increase the liability for the facility. It is important that facilities work to comply with this law as soon as possible.

3. Is there enough supply of covers to meet the demand?

There are more small manufactured covers coming into the market and supply is improving every day. Facilities should contact their suppliers immediately to check on availability. The CPSC maintains a list of manufacturers who have compliant covers at www.cpsc.gov.

The biggest shortages relate to larger, unblockable covers and covers for field-fabricated sumps with unique designs of a specific facility. The CPSC teaches that professional engineers may certify a field-fabricated cover to comply to the sump beneath the cover. Most engineers are hesitant to certify a design due to the liability and ambiguity of information on acceptable or unacceptable designs.

4. How is this impacting park pools?

There is tremendous uncertainty related to park and recreation pools. Governments are feeling the recession as a result of slumps in tax revenue from income, sales and property taxes. When the cost to comply with the VGB Act is also placed on parks’ shoulders, it is likely that there will be fewer park pools opening in 2009.

Though budgets are tight, it is more important than ever that parks take a new look at how they run their aquatic business and programs to create value and to charge a fair price. Aquatic facilities can be financially sustainable and even profitable.

5. How are those who operate multiple facilities handling this as far as expenses and tightened budgets?” Phoenix may be a good example to check on. They are closing some pools and may rotate some pools when they are open. What I heard is hearsay, so a fact check may be needed.

6. Overall statistics, do we know how many will be affected?

This act affects all public pools and spas in the U.S–about 300,000. As of December 19, 2008, only compliant covers are allowed to be sold in the U.S.

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