It took the drowning death of a 7-year-old girl in a hot tub to bring about safety regulations regarding pools and spas. Through the efforts of the child’s mother and legislators, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act went into effect December of 2008. “One accident is too many,” said Mark Larange, owner of Livin’ Easy Spa Sales & Service in Greenfield, Mass.
While the pool and spa safety act is a federal law that primarily impacts public pools and spas, each state has been adopting portions of the law to oversee those that are privately owed. “Any time there is an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) related event such as what happened to that child they (the government) always works to make us better,” said Larange.
Larange said that different states have focused on differing aspects of the law to make them more stringent. It is important to check state and local laws in relation to pools and spas whether you are installing something new or are retrofitting your pool or spa. Speak to your local building inspector when considering new pool and spa safety measures.
Some states are currently working on legislation and have no specific regulations relating to private ownership. However, most states are in the process of adopting new legislation. Larange said he expected Massachusetts to have new legislation within the next two years.
Regardless of legislation, there are steps you can easily take as a homeowner to make your pool or spa safer for your children:
The primary culprit in pool and spa injuries and deaths usually involves entrapment of hair or other body parts that are drawn into a drain or pump. “Entrapment can happen then there are faulty drains or pumps,” said Larange. Children are especially susceptible to entrapment due to lighter weight and smaller body size. In addition, Larange said, children often play games in pools and spas, diving to the bottom or seeing how long they can hold their breath, for example.
Larange said that many pools generally have self-priming pumps which draw water into it and are gravity fed. The suction created can hold a child underwater if they come in close contact with the drain.
If you have a pool or spa/hot tub at home, you can retrofit your drains and pumps at a fairly low cost. You can retrofit anti-entrapment drains for about $90 to $150. Larange said that the new anti-entrapment devices/systems are more sensitive to water pressure, and will automatically shut down if water flow is reduced. “In spas, there are also now bottom filters and surface top skimmers. There are check valves that will switch one system to the other if there is more than two pounds of pressure on one of the systems.”
Larange said that newer drains are often higher than the surface of the pool or spa with various openings for suction, as opposed to just one opening with much higher suction. “So, if someone brushes up against it, there is plenty of space to draw (suction) from the other side,” he said.
Pool Surface Alarms
Larange said that pool surface alarms can also be installed so that if a child sneaks into a pool or spa, the alarm will go off once the surface of the water is broken. “As soon as something splashes in the water, the pumps shut down,” said Larange.
There are numerous types of surface alarms. Most transmit a signal to the owner that the water has been breeched. The two types of surface alarms are those that float on the surface of the water and those that detect subsurface wave motion and are installed on the sides of a pool or spa. Both can be adjusted for sensitivity. Subsurface alarms have been noted to work better and have fewer false alarms than surface alarms. Surface alarms range in cost from about $150 to $250. Subsurface alarms cost a bit more ranging from $200 to $300.
The Old Fashioned Way
The most important thing you can do to protect your children is watch them at all times if they are in a pool or spa.