Industry professionals in Florida are split over a proposed safety law targeting commercial pools and spas.
“We’ve talked with the bill’s sponsor and we have
members on both sides,” said Jennifer Hatfield, a Sarasota,
Fla.-based lobbyist who heads up government affairs for the Florida
Swimming Pool Association.
FSPA recently came out against HB 1409, however, and has called on
its membership to notify lawmakers of their position.
Currently, the state Department of Health requires a
gravity-drainage system on all public vessels. But the bill now
moving through the legislature would allow multiple
entrapment-prevention options instead.
If signed into law, the new guidelines would take effect in July.
The measure, modeled after the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool
and Spa Safety Act, has vocal supporters and opponents.
Gravity systems have been required on Florida’s commercial
pools since 1977. Two years later, spas were mandated to include
vent lines; the gravity requirement was finally extended to spas in
Then, in May 2009, the state health department revised its rules to
require that all commercial pools and spas — essentially
those built before 1977 and 1993, respectively — be
retrofitted with the gravity systems, with a few exemptions. The
rule allowed for a phased implementation, with wading pools and the
oldest spas required to comply within about a year. Newer vessels
were given staggered deadlines, the latest being 2013.
At present, thousands of units, mostly public spas, remain to be retrofitted.
Opponents of the new bill argue that gravity-drainage has a proven
track record, and should remain the system of choice. They also
contend the costs associated with such systems often are
overstated, and that alternative devices require ongoing
maintenance and testing.
“[This bill is] taking a step backward,” said Chris
Wright, a commercial pool specialist at Aquatic Architechs in
Naples, Fla. “I know it’s a bad time in Florida, and a
lot of these condos and associations are suffering. But we’ve
met with everyone from small trailer parks to high-rise condos, and
the consensus is that they just have to bite the bullet and do it.
“I really don’t understand why someone wants to put
into law something that is easing the safety requirements of the
state,” he added.
One of the sticking points, Wright believes, is a misunderstanding
of the true cost of installing gravity systems. In conversations
with health officials, he said he’s heard estimates ranging
from $60,000 to $80,000 for conversions.
Wright placed the actual expense within the $10,000 to $20,000
range for most jobs.
But supporters of the measure maintain that the VGB-styled bill
brings the state in line with federal anti-entrapment standards, as
well as providing for additional and less costly options.
“There’s a true financial impact here. This
gravity-drainage requirement might not be achievable,” said
Gary Kaplan, president and partner at Ike’s Carter Pools in
Oakland Park, Fla. “So I’m for exploring a more
affordable alternative that is still making it safer.
“I’m seeing kiddie pools and spas that are being closed
down because people can’t afford the [gravity-drainage]
retrofits,” Kaplan added. “For new construction,
gravity-feed is not a cost-prohibitive alternative. But on
retrofits, you run the risk of pricing something out of