On September 28, the CPSC voted 3 – 2 to reverse an interpretive ruling on unblockable drains. Their previous ruling was the basis upon which pool owners and contractors brought pools into compliance with the VGB Act for the December 19, 2008 deadline (May 2009 for summer-only pools).

As a result of the new ruling, it is likely that thousands of pools that were previously compliant with the VGB Act are no longer compliant and will be required to make changes. The reversal is retroactive.

From CPSC: “On April 6, 2010, the Commission approved an interpretation of the VGB Act’s definition of “unblockable drain” to include the installation of an unblockable drain cover over a small, blockable, drain suction outlet; thus eliminating the requirement of a secondary backup system. The vote of the Commission this week revoked the 2010 interpretation and re-establishes the interpretation described above, where a back-up system or device is required on single main drains that are blockable.”

The new ruling requires that the sumps (the open area under the drain cover) on “unblockable drains” be of unblockable size in order for the drain to qualify as unblockable. Previously, only the drain cover had to be of unblockable size. The concern is that if the drain cover comes off, someone could be trapped on the sump, which is not of unblockable size. The VGB Act defines an “unblockable drain” as “a drain of any size and shape that a human body cannot sufficiently block to create a suction entrapment hazard.” and has published the standard of 18 x 23” as the minimum size for a drain to qualify as unblockable.

This new ruling will only affect swimming pools and spas with unblockable drains and sumps that are smaller than the unblockable size.

It will not affect pools and spas that have multiple drains and/or secondary anti-entrapment systems such as an Safety Vacuum Release System (SVRS), automatic pump shut off, gravity drainage system or suction limiting vent system. The great majority of pools will not be affected; however, it is still likely that thousands of pools will have to make modifications.

CPSC will now issue a revised interpretive rule that will clarify the new requirements. It appears that affected pools will have several ways in which to become compliant:

1. Install multiple drains
2. Enlarge the sump to conform to the size of the unblockable drain cover
3. Install one or more secondary anti-entrapment systems

Our opinion is that the best choices are #1 or #2 above. Secondary anti-entrapment system have inherent risks. Learn more about this issue.

The current date for compliance is May 28, 2012, although the CPSC is taking public comment on the date.

The VGB Act was signed into law on December 19, 2007 and became effective on December 19, 2008. Its purpose is to prevent drain entrapment and child drowning in swimming pools and spas.

Learn more about the CPSC’s decision.

Watch of replay of CPSC’s contentious vote.
Click on Commission Meeting (Wednesday, September 28, 2011) Part 1.

Commissioner Northrup, who voted against the reversal, submitted these questions earlier in September.

Go to the CPSC website.