It’s hard to believe it’s been almost eight years.
The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act went into effect December 19, 2008, culminating a contentious national debate over measures needed to eliminate suction entrapment accidents.
The stated objectives of VGB were to enhance the safety of public and private pools and spas; reduce child drowning and the number of suction entrapment incidents, injuries and deaths; and educate the public on the importance of constant supervision of children in and around water.
Among the many requirements mandated in the legislation, all public pools new and existing are required to be equipped with drain covers that comply with ASME/ANSI A112.19.8 2007 standard. (As most of us recall, in 2011 confusion over the specific requirement for drain covers resulted in a massive recall.)
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VGB also requires all public pools and spas with a single main drain other than an unblockable drain must also be equipped with one or more devices including a separated drain system per ANSI/APSP 7, safety vacuum release system that complies with ANSI/ASME A112.19.17 or ASTM F2387, suction-limiting vent system; gravity drainage system, automatic pump shutoff and drain disablement (or equivalent system determined by the CPSC).
Critics of the bill, myself among them, were vocal in expressing concerns about the complexity of the legislation and what many see as confusing language. Some viewed it as draconian and unnecessary governmental regulation. Proponents pointed to the horror of entrapment accidents and how relatively straightforward measures, such as split main drains, or unblockable drains, have been proven effective in preventing entrapment incident.
Now that the bill has had time to go into full effect (cover replacements were required to in place by June 2013), it begs the question: Has it worked?
According to statistics maintained by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, from 1999 to 2007, the year the legislation was passed, there were a total of 74 entrapment incidents reported, including the entrapment of hair, body, limb, evisceration and mechanical entrapment of fingers, jewelry or bathing suits. Since the bill passed, there have been 44.
What’s more instructive, I believe, is that between 2013 and ’15, there have only been five reported incidents. In 2015, there was only one, a non-fatal accident.
In purely statistical terms, that is a measurable and very significant decrease going from an average of 14 per year down to one. The question is, however, was VGB the driving force behind the positive trend?
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Given that the legislation was the only thing that changed during that time and as the years have passed incidents have, indeed, markedly declined. Therefore logically speaking it’s fair to say that the legislation must have made a difference. Of course, it’s impossible to know which measures contained within the bill are the most effective. It may simply be that the legislation forced inspection of all public pools and almost certainly by dint many residential pools as well, given the increase in public awareness.
But whether or not unblockable drains, split drains or the use of suction vacuum release systems were pivotal in decreasing accidents, we will probably never know for sure which of those made the biggest differences.
Based on the numbers, there is certainly a strong argument to made that VGB has been a success story. For all of the controversy and confusion surrounding the bill, which I still maintain could’ve been more sharply drafted; suction entrapment has been dramatically decreased.