When the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act was passed in December 2007, the industry took it very seriously.
Some even made it their primary business focus for the following year, hastening their clients along in order to meet the deadline for compliance.
“Looking back, that was an exciting time,” says Javier Payan, president of Payan Pool Service in El Cajon, Calif. “We had an opportunity to make pools safer, which I thought was a great idea. It was also an opportunity to diversify our company and have a good year. It was a wonderful thing.”
But the drain cover recall announced late May, in which an estimated one million products were declared insufficient to comply with the VGB Act, didn’t have quite the same reception.
“I think people are kind of going, ‘ho-hum,’” says Mike Geremia, president of Geremia Pools in Sacramento, Calif., a Pool & Spa News Top Builder.
Make no doubt about it, professionals plan to act. And they take entrapment prevention seriously. But they didn’t necessarily run to have clients shut down their pools to await new outlet covers. Here, some explain why the rush to action seems to be missing this time around.
Out the gate
For many, the lack of urgency was largely due to skepticism that the recall was necessary.
“I think everybody wants to just call B.S. on it, because the drain covers that they’re recalling are still some of the safest ever made,” Geremia says. “They’re not seeing this huge need for it.”
In addition, some believe information from the Consumer Product Safety Commission was scant as to exactly how far short of the target these drain covers fell. With no data as to how the outlet covers tested and no entrapment incidents actually occurring on the recalled products, the need for the whole exercise can feel abstract. Considering the recall was announced at the beginning of the busy season, many felt they didn’t have time to address abstractions.
“Give us some empirical information and we’ll deal with it a little bit more energetically,” Geremia says.
This is not to say that professionals are sitting on their hands. Many went through their customers’ files to see which ones had covers that were being recalled. Some even devoted staff to the effort of communicating with clients and manufacturers regarding product and certification.
One multi-state aquatic management firm even conducted webinars. “And we were harvesting as much information as we could at that time, and making sure that our clients were getting daily updates, to give them the most current information that was available,” said Mitchell Friedlander, CEO/president of American Pool Enterprises in Owings Mills, Md.
But with product not always available right away, many felt that trying to find replacements was futile.
Considering all these factors, some professionals just haven’t acted with the same urgency that they did when bringing their clients’ pools into VGB compliance.
In addition, industry members report that customers in the affected facilities also are feeling burned out. Between the initial passage of VGB, the recently released standards for the Americans with Disabilities Act, and now a drain-cover recall, they’re becoming frustrated.
Many of these owners and operators are beginning to turn their frustration and skepticism on pool professionals. “With the recall on top of VGB, they’re thinking that we’re just trying to generate work,’” Geremia says.
These customers remember all too well the hassle of becoming VGB-compliant to begin with — waiting for standards and interpretations to be finalized, getting contradictory information about issues such as unblockable drains, and having to reconcile what their state and local health departments were saying with what came from CPSC. In California, for instance, a law was passed requiring formal documentation for every commercial pool to verify that it was brought into compliance. The problem was, this law was enacted after the VGB deadline, so those who came into compliance on time now had to relive the process.
Similar confusion is beginning to surface regarding the drain-cover recall. “Additional laws are kind of layering on top of it,” Friedlander says. “Especially in places like Florida where there was some question about surge tanks and things like that. So we’ve got some confusion as to what’s needed, and there are only so many qualified professionals out there able to answer these higher-level questions from owner/ operators.”
Some regions were quicker to respond than others. “Texas is a lead market — they’re jumping through hoops to get things done,” says Friedlander, who has locations throughout the sun belt. “We also see Florida, New Jersey and Arizona as leads.”
He believes facility owners and operators in those areas were alerted about the recall by local health departments more quickly than those in other regions. Officials in those states also seem more proactive about making sure pools and spas under their jurisdiction are updated, he added.
Professionals who haven’t completely addressed the recall plan to wrap it up this fall, after the season ends. But in the meantime, many are left wondering what’s next.
“You want to be able to tell your customer, ‘Hey, your motor’s bad. You need a new motor.’ They authorize it, we fix it, and everyone’s happy,” Payan says. “Well, this VGB stuff, it just seems to be never-ending.”