The mainstream media has begun reporting on the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, and many in the industry aren’t pleased with the tone of the coverage.
Of particular interest were national stories from CNN online and The Wall Street Journal.
The former especially raised the ire of professionals, starting with its headline “Some ignore law to prevent pools from being child deathtraps.”
“There’s no need to use scare tactics to create a climate where everybody views every swimming pool as a death trap for children,” said Bruce Bagin, a partner in B&B Pool & Spa Center in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y. “I find that story is unfortunate and very unsettling because it’s so uninformed.”
The most inflammatory language came at the beginning of the article, where it stated that “children’s lives are at risk in swimming pools across the country…” and “pool operators have known about [the law] for more than a year.” It went on to discuss the horrors of entrapment and evisceration. Nancy Baker, mother of the law’s namesake, described her efforts to save her child, who died in a spa entrapment in 2002.
The Wall Street Journal article “A Dangerous Gap in Pool Safety” began by stating that approximately 80 percent of pools do not comply “with a new federal safety rule aimed at keeping people from becoming trapped in underwater drains,” and that some have closed as a result. In general, the article spent more time explaining the law and how entrapment occurs, as well as dilemmas that aquatics facilities face because they must decide whether to close. It advised parents to ask if public pools comply, look for missing drain covers and discourage their children from swimming near the drain.
Both stories briefly quoted Consumer Product Safety Commission spokesman Scott Wolfson as saying that shallow-water pools and spas take priority. However, some in the industry thought the story didn’t differentiate enough between those higher-risk vessels that allow children to come into direct contact with drains, and the standard swimming pools.
“[The CNN story] makes it sound like children are in imminent danger by learning to swim at their local YMCA,” said Steve Barnes, the head of APSP’s Technical Committee and product manager, safety and compliance, at Pentair Water Pool and Spa. “We must focus on the high-risk pools and, if they are not in compliance, they need to be closed. It’s a different animal from public pools with gravity drainage systems.”
Besides causing fear of pools that don’t fall under the high-risk category, National Swimming Pool Foundation CEO Thomas Lachocki worries that such coverage will discourage parents from sending their children to swim lessons.
The law was passed to prevent entrapment and drowning, he said, but stories have focused solely on entrapment.
“Closing those facilities where people are learning to swim places more people’s lives at risk than it prevents from an entrapment risk,” Lachocki said. “I think it’s important that we not solve one problem and create a larger problem potentially.”