Pool Reflections …
A day in the life of a Florida public pool inspector
By Lauren Broom History of Entrapment Legislation
Entrapment is a real issue in Florida, both in public and private pools. Entrapment deaths are not always due to extreme suction. Many entrapments occur where hands, feet, hair or clothing are caught into the drain cover or drain pipe and the person drowns due to the entrapment. Most pool techs do not think about checking and ensuring that main drains are compliant with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act (VGBA). Pool water chemistry, cleaning and other daily items are the items that automatically come into their mind. Main drain safety inspections need to be part of the routine safety checklist for every visit to the pool for a pool tech. George Pellington, of Vac-Alert Industries, LLC, stated “a spa on direct suction with an eight inch main drain when fully blocked could have enough force to exceed 600 pounds and a small child would have no chance of removing themselves.”
The VGBA is a law requiring all public pools and spas have antientrapment drain covers and other safety devices. Florida played a big part in the passage of this law. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Congresswoman from Florida. sponsored the VGBA legislation in 2007; it was later signed into law in December 2007 by President Bush. This requirement has made thousands of public pools and spas safer because of safer and stronger drain covers and secondary safety back-up devices.
Main Drain Safety Claims & the Pool Tech
“One of the best things that happened to this industry years ago was the Virginia Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act. Since its enactment, there have been no entrapments at commercial pools,” stated Ray Arouesty, Senior Vice President, Hub International. He has been insuring the pool industry since 1982. He understands the pool industry and laws because he once held a pool contractor’s license and has spent thirty years as a lawyer. He has handled roughly about three thousand swimming pool related claims which vary from tile damage, plaster damage, carbon monoxide deaths, electrocutions, over filled pools, fires and other related items. Hub International is the endorsed provider for the Independent Pool Spa Service Association (IPSSA), Swimming Pool Association of Hawaii (SPAH) and the National Plasters Council (NPC).
The VGBA has requirements for VGBA-approved main drain cover
Lauren Broom is a Certified Pool Operator Course, CPO ® , instructor and a former health inspector for the Florida Department of Health. Lauren has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology and is a registered sanitarian.
She has 16-years of experience in commercial pool inspections and waterborne disease outbreak investigations.
Lauren lives in Palm Bay, Florida with her husband of 17 years and their 3 children. Lauren can be reached at [email protected]
Missing Main Drain Cover
Lauren Broom replacement, dual main drains with sump requirement, and if no dual main drain the requirement for approved secondary safety devices. Per Ray Arouesty, “The Act has had dramatic improvement in safety for commercial spas and pools. The risk is especially high for spas due to being shallower. The VGBA did not apply to residential pools or spas, and thus that is why the entrapment is a real risk.”
A good example that Arouesty gave was from a legal claim many years ago in which a child was entrapped on a single main drain pool before VGBA was enacted. The suction was so strong that the three firemen at the scene could not pull the child off the main drain. The awful part is that this incident was witnessed by the child’s parent.
One of the biggest claims inArouesty’s career occurred just this past year, and involved a Los Angeles, California, rental house spa. The pool tech had been servicing the pool for two years and it had a missing main drain cover. There was a family renting the house with five children. On a summer day, their eight- year-old son was in the spa with his siblings and he put his hand in the open suction outlet. He was held down by the force of the suction and drowned. This incident was witnessed by all four of his siblings and his mother. There was a multi-million dollar settlement against the owner of the property and the pool tech. There was a very strong case to be made against the pool tech that he was negligent by failing to warn and notify the property owner and the tenants of the danger the missing drain cover presented. The pool tech’s reason for not replacing the missing drain cover during that two year period was that the owner would not pay him to replace it. If the safety hazard poses a significant property damage, severe injury or death, then the pool tech should send written notification stating they will no longer service that pool. The exact reason why they are dropping the account needs to be identified and it should be sent to the property owner via certified mail. This helps to maintain a written record to prove that the pool tech notified the property owner of the safety hazard. Keeping good records to protect yourself is very important for pool techs, especially with severe hazards like missing drain covers.
Pool techs are viewed as the pool expert. In a lawsuit, a remote property owner will most like say they have no knowledge on pools and that is why they hired a pool service company. In court, it will be viewed that the pool service company is the pool expert based on stating years of experience to the remote property owner. Arouesty’s focus is on the pool tech and he has lectured at many trade shows on the legal liability for pool technicians. Pool techs need to broaden their view when entering properties with pools.
So many of his pool tech clients think their job is limited to balancing the pool water, cleaning filters and skimming leaves off the water surface. “While they think that is what their job is, courts may not agree with that,” Ray stated. He went on to elaborate that “they have an obligation to make sure that the pool and the surroundings are safely maintained.” What does the term safe mean? It means the pool tech not only should maintain water chemistry balance, but also has an obligation to notify the owner of dangerous conditions at the pool. Of all the dangerous conditions, the most severe is the missing main drain cover.
Main Drain Layers of Protection
Layers of protection have really reduced entrapments in the United States. After the pool industry initiated a public service campaign along with the alertness in entrapment there was a 10 year period when there were no entrapments in the United States. There have been entrapments fairly recently, but the public service campaign has not been in the forefront for parents and pool techs.
VGBA Compliant Drain Covers
VGBA compliant main drain covers are the first line of defense to entrapment, especially on direct suction pools. Pool techs need to verify the flat grates have been removed and replaced with the VGBA compliant covers. Pool techs shall check and inspect the main drain cover each time they are at the pool for safety. Safety checks are to verify the drain cover is properly secured and intact. Pool techs need to be aware of the expiration dates engraved on their drain cover prior to installation and make sure that these covers are replaced prior to expiration date.
Dual Main Drains
There are some pools built with two main drains connected to each other by piping and a Tee fitting. The two drains are far enough apart that one person would not be able to block both drains
Main drain cover unsecured at the same time, and if one drain is blocked, suction is then shifted to the other drain. Some of the dual main drain systems will have one drain on the side pool wall and the other far enough on the pool floor.
Secondary Safety Devices Safety Vacuum Release System(SVRS)
These devices connect to the pool pump wiring and are installed in the suction plumbing side of the pump. Sensors in the plumbing prior to the pump detect if there is a spike in vacuum pressure; if so, the system shuts off power to the pump or it makes the pump suck air to cavitate it.
Vac-Alert ® is one of the safety vacuum release systems often used on pools. It is manufactured by Vac-Alert Industries, LLC since 1997. There are over 100,000 Vac-Alert SVRS devices installed and operating in the world today. Vac-Alert has been highly active with the Pool Safety Council since the Council’s inception in 2005, and is dedicated to overall pool safety and the prevention of child drowning nationwide. Paul Pennington, Managing Partner of Vac-Alert Industries, stated, “what a great way to end my working career by doing something good like saving children’s lives.” Since 2007, when the VGBA went into effect, Paul Pennington and the Vac-Alert team worked diligently to promote this life saving federal legislation. It was designed to prevent the tragic and hidden hazard of drain entrapments and eviscerations in pools and spas. The VGBA requires all public pools to install layers of protection that will guard swimmers against suction entrapment. This law was a victory for pool safety advocates, parents and communities everywhere. The company has truly taken part in manufacturing a device that has been proven to work and help prevent entrapment on main drains. “The vast majority of entrapments were from private pools and especially private spas due to the closeness to the main drain. Also, flat main drain grates were easier to get entrapped on.” Paul also went on to say, “that layers of protection are very important for main drain safety to prevent entrapment and a safety vacuum release system is definitely part of those layers.” As mentioned earlier, layers of protection, if all used, are very effective in reducing or eliminating entrapment risk.
This system is simply a pipe plumbed into the main drain pipe that is vented to a height above the pool water level. If it is engineered properly, the vent pipe can be used as a vacuum breaking system. Once the vacuum pressure reaches a threshold, then the water from the vent pipe will be sucked into the pump followed by a large amount of air which results in breaking the vacuum suction.
Gravity Feed System
In this main drain system design, the main drains are fed into a collection tank downhill located at a point lower than the pool pump, and then the collection tank is plumbed directly to the pool pump. This system design only produces suction on that tank and not on the main drains. Public pools in Florida have been required to be built with a gravity feed system since 1977; gravity feed systems for public spas have been required since 1992.
Experiences from the Florida Pool Inspector
Main drain safety is one of the major items that are checked by your local health inspector. If there is a violation on this single item, it can result in your pool being closed.
Main drain covers shall be present, secured, undamaged and meet VGBA requirements.
I believe pool techs who service public pools are more aware of main drain safety than those pool techs who service private pools. Thus, I did not cite as many main drain safety violations as one might think.
Main drain cover violations that were cited during my career with the Florida DOH included a missing drain cover, an unsecured drain cover and a hole in the drain cover.
Vac-Alert & Vacless SVRS units installed on commercial spas.
Hole in old main drain grate
Some pools techs were unaware that main drain covers expire based on manufacturer expiration dates. Pool techs should note the expiration date engraved on the main drain cover and ensure they are changed out with a new VGBA compliant main drain cover prior to that date. The FLDOH documents and monitors these main drain cover expiration dates and can close the pool if the drain cover is no longer deemed VGBA compliant.
Pool techs are also unaware that a Florida licensed pool contractor is required to install these drain covers. Many are also unaware that when these drain covers are replaced, FLDOH Form DH4157 is required to be submitted by licensed pool contractors to the local health department.
Secondary safety device violations cited included missing or inoperable devices on direct suction pools. This violation results in immediate public pool closure. Pool techs need to be aware that missing or inoperable secondary safety devices on direct suction pools poses a large public safety threat. The installation of these devices shall be done by a licensed pool contractor with submittal of FLDOH form DH4157 to the local health department. The other big unknown to pool techs is the FLDOH code requirements on safety testing of these devices. Written documentation has to be kept on the safety testing and when it was conducted for SVRS per manufacturer.
Vac-Alert and Vac-Less are both manufacturers of the most common SVRS devices.
They used monthly testing of the devices to show they are functioning properly. An SLVS device, per Florida Statute, shall be tested annually. Written documentation of the safety testing must be maintained by a licensed pool contractor.
Residential pools and spas are the locations at greatest risk for entrapment due on the main drain of the pool. Pool techs should be aware of the following: 1) Replace all flat main drain grates or anti-vortex covers with VGBA compliant drain covers; 2) Dive and check expiration dates and condition of covers regularly; 3) Educate children on staying away from the main drain; and 4) If the main drain cover is loose, has a hole in it or is missing, then Do Not Swim!!
Top picture: Damaged SVRS. Bottom picture: SLVS missing screening over opening.