The question of how the Virginia Graeme Baker act will affect residential pools has finally been answered.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has finalized three
aspects of VGB that were still up in the air: model language for
potential state laws; the definition of an unblockable drain; and
the definition of a commercial pool.
This puts in black and white the continually confusing issue of
what VGB means for residential pools.
The law is not a mandate for all pools. Instead, it provides grants
to states that enact pool and spa safety legislation that meets
certain requirements set out by CPSC. The model language released
March 3 spells out those baseline conditions.
Putting to rest one of the most contentious issues, the law does
not require a safety vacuum release system or other such device on
pools with multiple drains, unblockable drains or drainless
Specifically, the language states that all vessels, new or
existing, must have some kind of entrapment protection, whether it
be multiple or unblockable drains, a drainless system or a device
such as an SVRS. However, a year after enactment of a state law,
all new pools and spas must have multiple drains, unblockable
drains or no drains at all. In addition, all drains will need to
have VGB-approved covers.
This doesn’t preclude a state from requiring secondary
devices. Any state can pass more stringent language, as long as it
is consistent with two CPSC publications regarding pool and spa
safety: Safety Barrier Guidelines for Home Pools and Guidelines for
Entrapment Hazards: Making Pools and Spas Safer.
The model legislation also presents barrier requirements that
are similar to many existing laws. It applies to any outdoor
residential vessel intended for swimming or recreational usage,
including any aboveground and inflatable pool deeper than 24
Fencing at least 48 inches above grade shall “effectively
provide protection against potential drowning or near-drowning of
young children by preventing them from gaining unsupervised and
In addition to the height, CPSC outlined other detailed
specifications for compliance. Removable mesh fencing is allowed if
it meets ASTM F2286-05. For an aboveground or onground pool, the
vessel itself can serve as the barrier if it stands at least 48
inches above grade. If not, fencing can be added to the top of the
pool, provided it meets certain criteria.
If the house serves as part of the barrier, it must be backed up
with an audible alarm or power safety cover, both of which must
meet certain specifications.
Portable hot tubs may have ASTM-compliant lockable manual safety
covers in lieu of fences.
Additionally, CPSC finalized its definition of an unblockable
drain. This holds particular importance for some because an
unblockable drain can stand alone and doesn’t need a backup
To fit this category, a drain must be large enough so that its
open area is not blocked by the 18-by-23-inch element used in
testing. Furthermore, flow around the blocking element must fall
within a given value. All covers must meet the ASME/ANSI A112.19.8
Some controversy arose over a related decision — to define
a drain as unblockable if it has an adequately sized cover, even if
the sump is smaller. CPSC Chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum dissented.
“The use of an unblockable drain cover by itself does not
address the entrapment risks posed by a missing or broken drain
cover. …” she said in a statement.
However, others saw it as adequate. “If a cover renders a
pool or spa’s main drain unblockable, I can see no safety
reason for interpreting the words ‘main drain’
narrowly,” Commissioner Robert Adler said.
Finally, CPSC clarified a vague term used to define a public
pool. In part, VGB defines a public pool or spa as one at “a
hotel or other public accommodations facility.” Because of
confusion, the agency sought to define the latter term. Only pools
at single-family residences that are rented to others will be
excluded from VGB’s public pool and spa requirements.