The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa safety Act

Abigail Taylor, aged just six years was disembowelled losing seven metres of her small intestinal tracts after sitting over a defective sump outlet in a Minnesota golf club paddling pool in June 2007. Following this Abigail received a replacement small bowel, liver and pancreas in a rare triple-organ transplant at a Nebraska hospital in December 2007 but suffered a cancerous condition occasionally triggered by such transplants and died on March 20th this year.

It must be remembered that when an organ transplant is undertaken it is common for the recipient to receive medication to ‘dumb down’ their immunity system to stop the body rejecting the organ. Sadly this puts the recipient in a very fragile and vulnerable condition.

In the last twenty years in the USA more than thirty under 14s have died from pool and spa entrapment. 100 children were also seriously injured during this period. It is believed that the correct figure is higher as some are miss-reported as drowning. In Japan, entrapment fatalities accounts for two deaths per year.

Drowning is the number two accidental injury-related killer of under 14s in the USA. There are approaching 300 drowning deaths of children younger than age 5 each year in the swimming pools, and an estimated 3,000 children are treated annually in hospital emergency rooms for pool submersion injuries, generally in residential pools. As many as 20% of near-drowning survivors suffer permanent neurological damage.

Back in 2002, seven year old Virginia Graeme Baker, granddaughter of former Secretary of State, James Baker died after becoming entrapped beneath the water in a family friend’s hot tub in Virginia. Her mother jumped into the hot tub after finding her daughter’s unconscious body on the bottom and desperately tried to pull her daughter out, but could not move her or understand why. Two adult men finally managing to free Virginia by pulling so hard the drain cover broke in the process. She was flown to Fairfax Hospital in Virginia and pronounced dead. Even at that time, her mother still did not fully understand the circumstances that had led to her childs drowning.

In December last year spurred on by what happened to Abigail and Virginia a new law was passed (not guidance, not best practice, not a standard); the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa safety Act. This promotes the safe use of pools and spa baths by imposing mandatory requirement regarding suction outlets.

The main points are:

  • All outdoor pools must be enclosed to prevent access by small children
  • All new pools shall have more than one ‘below water’ outlets.
  • All drain covers comply with American National Standard ASME A112
  • But ideally no underwater outlets (100% surface removal system)
  • All Pools shall have outlets complying with ASME A112
  • They shall also be equipped with a safety vacuum release system unless the outlets are part of a gravity system.
  • $5,000,000 p.a. made available by Government for education & training

Most of these points we have advocated for years in the UK and as for a vacuum release systems, Bob Kent of BZC has had those on the market for years and I see them all the time fitted or retro-fitted in older pools and spas for about a thousand quid. What price can you put on a child s life! Sadly it took the lives of thirty children in the USA before they acted but at least they have now acted in a positive way.

Again I see secure fencing but as time passes they get damaged and become part of the overall adventure of gaining access to pools. Remember children cannot see danger, just count your own scars from your youth.

Is there something better than fences? Well yes, I believe so and I saw it recently at a Haven Holiday site and if Craig Valentine their Pool H&S guy says it works, then take it from me, it works.

Just a simple solar powered device that sits on the poolside with a tube hanging into the water. This will detect any out of hours bathing and will wirelessly wii-fi a signal to a receiver up to approximately 60 metres away. As my Yorkshire reader would say, “how much?” three hundred quid and this includes an anti-tamper alarm.

  • a wristband designed for toddlers that if it gets wet will again wii-fi a signal to a receiver, about £200 for a family of five.
  • Infra red, solar powered wireless beams around a pool, again which will signal if area is intruded. Cost about £1,000.

Yep, I was like the Messiah over there answering all their problems, because lets face it, we introduced civilization in North America in the first place. But remember just like the financial crisis, USA yesterday, UK today so let’s benefit from their experiences.


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Consultancy projects from Studies In Work are carried out primarily by Allen J Wilson who is Health & Safety and Management qualified.
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One of the areas of specialisation is the safe operation of swimming Pool and Spa Plant.

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