May 15, 2009

Compliance with the Federal Pool and Spa Safety Act

I took a trip to Houston this week. As I was heading to the airport to catch my return flight, I glanced at the car’s thermometer. Ninety four degrees. Summer is apparently in full swing down there, but we in the Pacific Northwest will probably have to wait a bit longer for regular hot weather. Condominium and homeowners associations that have a pool or spa should use that time to evaluate whether they are in compliance with a recently enacted federal law that pertains to such facilities.

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act was enacted by Congress and signed by the President in late 2007. The goal of this legislation was to improve pool and spa safety by reducing the risk that powerful suction could trap a person underwater. The Act applies to all “public pools and spas”, and that term is defined by the Act to include pools and spas that are open exclusively to residents of a residential real estate development or other multi-family residential area. Condominium and homeowners associations are included within this general definition and therefore must comply with the Act’s provisions.

The Act requires the installation of a certain type of cover over all public pool and spa drains. It also requires the installation of a second anti-entrapment system (such as a safety vacuum release system, a suction-limiting vent system, or a gravity drainage system) if a public pool or spa has a single main drain. Operators of public pools and spas with “unblockable drains” (defined by the Act to mean drains that a human body can not sufficiently block to create a suction entrapment hazard) do not have to install a second anti-entrapment system but must still install the drain covers specified in the Act.

Public pools and spas that operate year-round were required to comply with the Act by December 19, 2008. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (the agency charged with enforcing the Act) has taken the position that seasonal public pools and spas that are currently closed must be in compliance with the Act on the day that they reopen in 2009. Additional information regarding the Act’s requirements can be reviewed at

The tragedy of a preventable drowning death and the resulting civil liability for such an event could have a devastating impact on a community. Condominium and homeowners association boards should ensure that their pools and spas are safe before allowing the summer fun to begin.