With the passage of a new spending bill, the Consumer Product Safety Commission will receive funding for the residential portion of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.
The $410 billion budget bill includes $7.28 million set aside for implementation of the federal safety law. Of this, $2 million is designated to reward states that pass safety legislation pertaining to residential installations, while $5 million goes to water-safety education and enforcement of the VGB Act.
“The inclusion of these resources … brings us one step closer to preventing drownings of children across the country,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), author of the act. “We don’t know how many children’s lives will be saved, but this will save lives and that’s what’s most important.”
CPSC saw an overall budget increase, enabling the agency to move forward with various programs. It seems the VGB Act is near the top of the priority list, according to CPSC Acting Chairwoman Nancy Nord.
The agency has not yet drawn up a timeline for getting the residential program under way, but it will need to move quickly. The law only specifies that funding be given for 2009 and 2010.
VGB won’t automatically apply to every backyard pool and spa nationwide. Instead, it provides grants for states that pass safety legislation meeting minimum CPSC requirements.
Last year, the agency released a preliminary draft of those minimums and took public comments. However, this effort was tabled when it became clear that funding would not be available until 2009. It isn’t known when the guidelines will be released.
CPSC’s initial draft would have states mandate that all new residential pools have multiple main drains, unblockable drains or drainless systems. SVRS’s and other shut-off-type devices could serve as optional backups. Also, these pools would have to be equipped with drain covers that meet the testing outlined in ASME/ANSI A112.19.8, unless they have unblockable drains.
There’s also a barriers section, which states that all pools and spas must have four-sided fencing. The house can serve as one side of the barrier if the pool has an approved power safety cover or approved alarms are used on all doors. The current draft also notes that a manual cover must be placed over a spa whenever it is not in use.
Since the budget was passed, CPSC has made further headway on implementing the new law, such as hiring a staff member to head the safety education program. And CPSC will seek outside partners. “We hope the funding on the education side can be shared with state agencies and also those in the drowning-prevention advocacy world,” said CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson.
He added that the funding should help boost CPSC’s enforcement of the law’s commercial side, which requires certain drain covers and dual main drains or a specified equivalent. “There is an intention to bulk up our office of compliance and field operations …” Wolfson said.
The agency will take special interest in cases involving spas, wading pools and other shallow bodies of water with easy access to the drains. “Where information comes to our attention of public pools and spas that fall into the three criteria we established as our priorities, CPSC will act accordingly to respond to that information,” Wolfson said. The agency will still largely rely on states for enforcement, he added.
These requirements will serve as minimums, so state officials can pass more stringent safety bills if desired.