A petition by unblockable drain cover manufacturer BeeSafe
Systems requesting that its products be approved for installation
without a secondary vacuum-limiting system has been denied.
The decision also was a setback to another group hoping to gain
such an allowance for certain unblockable drains.
When the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act was first
passed, the Consumer Product Safety Commission was charged with
interpreting its language and writing guidelines. It was known that
unblockable drains could be installed without a second outlet or
entrapment-prevention device. But one question that lingered was
how a main drain could qualify as unblockable.
While it was clear that the unit had to measure more than
18-by-23-inches and meet certain testing parameters, it
wasn’t known whether those qualifications applied solely to
the drain cover or to the sump as well. This uncertainty especially
affected manufacturers and purchasers of drain covers meant to
convert smaller sumps into unblockables, which spared owners of
single-drain pools the need to split the outlets or add secondary
In 2010, well after the deadline to comply with the law, the
CPSC commissioners voted 3-to-2 that a drain qualifies as
unblockable if its cover meets the standards regardless of sump.
After pushback by certain individuals and groups, one commissioner
changed his mind, stating that if an unblockable cover should come
off and expose a blockable-sized sump, it would pose too much of a
hazard. He called for a new vote and in September 2011, the 3-to-2
count went in the other direction. Those who had installed an
unblockable drain over a blockable sump would have to retrofit
their pools by another drain or add a secondary system. Originally
they were given until May 28, 2012 to comply, but CPSC later
extended the deadline to May 23, 2013.
BeeSafe filed its petition last spring. The law allows CPSC to
deem certain technologies compliant if they are determined to be as
safe as those specifically named in the law. BeeSafe sought to gain
such status, stating that its unblockable cover technology not only
relied on the larger size, but also incorporated features that
prevent the covers from coming off and protect against hair
Shortly thereafter, a coalition of manufacturers and
associations, led by Worldwide Sports and including the Association
of Pool & Spa Professionals, the National Swimming Pool
Foundation and the American Hotel & Lodging Association, sought
to file a more widespread exception allowing unblockable drain
covers to be installed as the sole means of entrapment protection
if the unit met certain criteria. The coalition was told not to
file a petition, but to submit the request as a public comment
weighing in on the BeeSafe request.
After investigating the BeeSafe request, CPSC staff recommended
denying the petition. The main issue, they said, was how the cover
would perform if a special winterizing cover were to come off or be
removed. The only way to remove the entire BeeSafe cover is with a
specific screw driver. However, a winterizing cover can be removed
with conventional tools.
BeeSafe said the technology would protect swimmers even if that
winterizing lid were removed, but CPSC disagreed.
“CPSC staff ... found that pull-off forces for the
body-block tests exceeded the forces allowed by the
standard,” the report stated. “When CPSC staff
conducted the full-head-of-hair tests, the simulated human head ...
was pulled completely into the winterizing cover opening.
...” The commission voted unanimously to follow the
Commissioner Robert Adler, the Democrat whose change of heart
resulted in last year’s revote, said he hopes to see new
technologies developed, including unblockable drains that can shut
off the pool pump if the cover is removed, or covers that
don’t need to be removed for maintenance and repair.
“I say this in part because I suspect that SVRS continues
to be the secondary anti-entrapment system of choice for most pool
owners due to its relatively low cost,” he said in his
statement. “Unfortunately, I believe that the SVRS technology
currently on the market provides extremely limited secondary
protection to swimmers and bathers.”
The commissioners did not acknowledge the comment filed by the
industry coalition seeking an exception for unblockable covers
meeting certain criteria. Walt Sanders, the lobbyist heading up the
effort, said the group is evaluating CPSC’s comments and
considering whether it wants to take the effort farther through a
formal petition or other means.
BeeSafe CEO Bonnie Snow took issue with how CPSC tested her
product. “The logical way would have been to test my product
both with and without an SVRS added ... to see if the built-in
technology that we have for breaking suction at the surface of our
covers is equal to the SVRS technology,” she said. This, she
added, would establish whether the BeeSafe cover would benefit from
the addition of the most popular backup device.
She also said that if the winterizing cover were missing, it
would be a matter of human error and the pool would be out of
compliance. She didn’t think it fair to downgrade her product
because of the possibility of human error and not judge other
“If they denied my petition because there’s a remote
risk of that cover being damaged or missing, they have then failed
to say what happens if the SVRS device is not installed properly,
has been tampered with, has been [purposely] disabled or just plain
fails to work ...,” Snow said. “Those failures are
going to happen because of human error in the field. The law is not
going to solve that.”
Snow, a former health inspector who took an interest in
entrapment prevention, said the indecision involving the
unblockable-drain definition put undue strain on her company.
The firm stopped producing unblockable drains when its
definition came into question. With the CPSC decision, she said,
her company has closed its doors.