Friday, February 17, 2012
Pool & Spa Safety Act Falls Short of Safety
In 2002 young Virginia Graeme Baker, granddaughter of Secretary of State James Baker was held underwater by suction in a spa and drowned. In NC at a homeowner’s association pool another young girl was eviscerated by a suction line back in 1993 but was making news currently with her attorney John Edwards. Nancy Baker and Safe Kids Worldwide worked tirelessly to get Congress to enact laws for pool and spa safety. Representative Debbie Wasserman of Florida got the bill signed by President Bush known as the Pool and Spa Safety Act 2007. There was no doubt that even one accident is too many and a change needed to be made. Our industry was to learn so much more about hydraulics and entrapment. This newfound knowledge has caused many professionals to have issues and wonder why common sense and proven scientific studies have been ignored.
First the Consumer Protection Safety Commission studied from February 1985 to August 2002 how entrapment events occurred and how many resulted in death. We learned that of the recorded hair and limb entrapment events that 54% resulted in death. Body entrapment events accounted for 17% of deaths and of the 5 evisceration events that no death occurred. Most of these occurred in residential pools and not commercial. However the pool safety act was not retroactive to existing residential pools, only commercial pools. Many homeowners were led to believe that it was not important to them. Unfortunately residential pool owners have not seen the statistics nor has there been an aggressive campaign to educate them.
With technical research the adoption of dual main drains became required if main drains were being installed. No main drains were allowed as part of the ANSI /APSP 7 standard that was adopted by the Pool and Safety act also. The use of dual main drains was to slow the velocity down through the pipe so if one was covered and three feet away from each other so they both could not be blocked, that a strong enough suction would not occur to hold a body down or eviscerate. What Ms. Wasserman really did was double the chances for entrapment by limb and hair which had the highest percentage of deaths and injury of all types of entrapment. By doubling the occurrence of a missing or broken drain cover the new law succeeded to double our chances of death. This seems even more obnoxious as main drains are not needed at all for good circulation, cleaning or draining of any pool.
However we did learn that older drain covers are suspect to UV damage and now carry a date on them to be replaced. Design of main drain covers have been designed to hopefully mitigate mechanical and hair entrapment. It is very hard to see a main drain cover in the bottom of a deep pool or with any water movement.
We also have learned that if a cover is missing or broken regardless of flow that entrapment can occur. Human error cannot be legislated away.
The Pool and Spa Safety Act again failed in regards to suction entrapment. The allowance of a suction vacuum release system (SVRS) was heavily lobbied by the manufacturer of the device. This piece of equipment when in proper working order will shut off a pump within 3 seconds of low water flow and release the suction. However, even at the now required lower maximum velocity of water through the pipe at 3 feet per second for a single main drain the math shows that if blocked, nine feet of something could be sucked up the pipe within three seconds. That is still not acceptable and does not prevent evisceration. What is also not acceptable is the "water hammer"effect that could prevent the SVRS from cutting off power to the pump.
Much of the technical research done to prove the technical merits of ANSI/ APSP 7 standard has also created a better understanding of hydraulics which has led to energy efficiency and made our industry very aware of what we didn’t know. It has also increased awareness with code officials. The safety act was enforced before any training was available to the code officials or the public. Many pools were not opened due to costly repairs or not inspected properly many times. Few states have aligned their required codes which have put them in direct conflict with the federal act.
The most important change in legislation was not made as this bill was rushed through Congress before all the scientific studies could be concluded and expressed. Media attention on swimming pool safety was still high. It is now our responsibility to be sure the pools we maintain, install, or our family and friends swim in is safe. The only safe pool from entrapment has no main drain. It’s just that simple.