The deadline has long passed to meet the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. Yet, there’s still plenty of work to do.
“We have approximately 10,000 pools in Maricopa County. I estimate that maybe 1,000 have been worked on,” says pool consultant John Mortensen, owner of Phoenix-based Aquatic Concepts.
Those out in the trenches say that a surprising number of commercial-pool owners and operators either still don’t know about the federal law or have barely heard of it.
Even worse, there are others who paid to update their pools, but didn’t get their money’s worth. In fact, Mortensen believes that as many as half of the retrofitted vessels are still not compliant. A lot of drain covers have been swapped out, he says, but other areas go uninspected, such as sump depth.
This has left the door open for reputable companies to notify their existing customers, as well as step in to make alterations on incorrectly modified pools. Here, three professionals explain how they’ve done just that.
Javier Payan, president
Payan Pool Service
El Cajon, Calif.
In order to protect ourselves, we developed a filing system with complete records for every pool and spa that we inspect for VGB compliance. The files contain a notification letter from us, our site evaluation, estimates, all correspondence and any receipts for drain covers. We photograph every split tee and include that picture as well.
I even hired an administrative assistant to create and maintain the files.
We started notifying existing customers about VGB late last summer. The idea was, “Dear commercial pool owner: Here are the new requirements. Here’s what you need to do to comply. And this is how we’re going to help.” We kept it to one page but tried to explain everything. We made it clear that before we could do the work we had to inspect the pool, and there was a fee involved.
When we got to the Dec. 19 deadline, we sent out another notification saying, “According to our records you’re not in compliance with this new regulation and you might want to make some plans.” Then that letter went into every file.
After we complete a job, I give the customer a certification sheet stating that the pool has a compliant sump, the drains are properly split, etc. I put it on company letterhead, include our contractor license number and even sign on the dotted line. I developed the sheet to give our customers something tangible that they could present to their insurance companies saying the job was done right.
We also started doing diving work in-house. I picked out a couple of service employees who showed ambition and got them certified through a local dive shop. This is a great opportunity. Once you start doing the diving, it opens up a whole other level of work that we used to have to subcontract out.
If there’s a job that requires diving, we have two guys go out to the site – one to dive, one to watch from the deck. Sometimes it feels ridiculous, but it’s a good safety measure, and when you think about the liability…I don’t want to have to defend my company.
Editors note: Check with your insurance provider before creating any type of certification letter for customers.
John Mortensen, owner
I sent e-mails to as many property management companies in the state as I could find in order to get the message out. It basically says, “If you think you’re in compliance, congratulations. Here’s a 10-point checklist. If you can’t answer yes to all these, you probably aren’t in compliance.”
I also created a Website devoted to VGB. It outlines the basics of the law and entrapment, as well as what is required for compliance.
As far as cover compliance, I do almost all the work myself, although my business partner comes with me for some jobs. We split the drains and handled all plumbing concerns ourselves until I found someone I trust to do it correctly. Now we subcontract most of the work out, but we supervise every phase.
I’m not an authority on diving, so we use a subcontractor for that. I spoke with a certified diving company, and my understanding of federal safety law is that when someone dives commercially, there has to be a team involved, even in a swimming pool. I’m using a licensed diving company that has a three-man team. They cost more, so that makes us less competitive, but I refuse to adhere to a federal safety standard on the one hand with an unsafe diving condition on the other.
Bruce Bagin, partner
B & B Pool and Spa Center
Chestnut Ridge, N.Y.
We’re taking a very aggressive approach to getting the message out.
I’ve been running radio advertisements promoting the need to upgrade commercial pools for VGB compliance.
I’ve also joined a number of outside organizations, in part to help gain business. I’ve become the official water safety spokesperson for the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial, the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson discovering the Hudson River, and the American Heritage Rivers Alliance.
My company also joined the Campground Owners Association of New York. We did this to get a mailing list, knowing that these campgrounds have commercial pools and will need help. Earlier this year, I spoke at four regional meetings for this group and told them about bringing pools up to speed on VGB. I’ve made myself available to any members who call for help.
So far, my service department is able to handle most pools. When we run into a major project that requires adding drains or anything that’s going to be structural in nature, my construction department takes over.
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