The Consumer Product Safety Commission denied a petition by
unblockable drain cover manufacturer BeeSafe Systems requesting
that its products be approved for installation without a secondary
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, CPSC 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, CPSC
took a vote among its commissioners and decided 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 with multidrain
systems or devices such as safety vacuum release systems,
suction-limiting vents, gravity-drainage systems and others.
Originally they were given until May 28, 2012 to retrofit their
pools, 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 at
least 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 entrapment.
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
as long as 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, staff 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. Though BeeSafe said the technology would
protect swimmers even if that winterizing lid were removed, CPSC
did not agree.
“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
that was used to conduct the test was pulled completely into the
winterizing cover opening. ...”
The commission voted unanimously to follow the staff’s
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.”
Neither the staff nor commissioners acknowledged 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.
Additionally, she 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 devices similarly.
“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 when an entrapment happens,” 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.