How operators can prevent injury at hotel pools

In June 2002, seven-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker drowned when she became stuck to the suction drain outlet of a hot tub. Baker, who had been swimming without assistance since age three, was trapped underwater by the suction force of the water flowing into the drain. She was unable to free herself. It took two men to pull her free, and the drain cover broke from the force of removing her.

Most permanent swimming pools and spas are equipped with suction outlets (drains), which, in conjunction with pumps, permit the filtration, heating, chemical treatment and/or draining of water. Incidents like Virginia Graeme Baker’s illustrate that, without certain design features or equipment, suction drain outlets can entrap a swimmer beneath the water.

On December 19, 2007, President George W. Bush signed into law the Virginia Graeme Baker Swimming Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGB Act). The act specified that a new swimming pool and spa drain cover standard was to be treated as a consumer product safety rule. Effective one year following the enactment of the law, “…each swimming pool or spa drain cover manufactured, distributed, or entered into commerce in the United States shall conform to the entrapment protection standards of the ASME/ANSI A112.19.8 performance standard, or any successor standard regulating such swimming pool or drain cover.”

The law further required that, effective one-year following enactment, every pre-existing and new public swimming pool was to be equipped with anti-entrapment systems that complied with the ASME/ANSI A112.19.8 standard. The law defined public pools to include those pools open to hotel patrons.

Therefore, starting on December 19, 2008, every pre-existing and all new hotel swimming pools in the United States were required to be equipped with compliant anti-entrapment devices and systems.

Several manufactures produce drain cover outlets that are intended for use at existing pools. However, for out-of-the box use of the covers, specific manufacturer requirements regarding flow rates, wall or floor location, sump dimensions, etc. must be strictly observed in order for the drain to be compliant. Often, in order to meet the manufacturer’s requirements, the drain sumps and outlets at existing pools were demolished and reconstructed.

The ASME/ANSI standard and the subsequent ANSI/APSP-16 also allow for field-fabricated outlets to be designed, and tested in place, by a registered design professional (an engineer or, in some instances, an architect). The design of field-fabricated outlets is required to address cover/grate loadings, durability, hair/finger/limb entrapment issues, cover/grate secondary layer of protection, related sump design, and features particular to the site.

The VGB Act requires that any swimming pool with a single main drain outlet should be provided with an “unblockable” drain, or one of six other secondary systems for entrapment protection, including: a safety vacuum release system (SVRS), a suction-limiting vent system, a gravity drainage system with a collector tank, an automatic pump-shutoff system, drain disablement, or any other system determined by the Commission to be equally effective. Please note that many manufacturers and many jurisdictions require that SVRS devices be tested on a regular basis. For example, the Florida Department of Health requires it to be tested a minimum of once a month.

It is important for facilities to maintain awareness of the entire swimming pool system. Changes to any part of the system, including pumps, filters, heaters, etc. can affect the flow rates of the system, thereby changing the suction characteristics of the drain outlets. These changes can create non-compliance with the certificates previously issued.