The Virginia Graeme Baker Act: How to Check Your Pool Drain
February 10, 2023
Did you know that drowning is the leading cause of death among children? However, it’s something that can happen to anyone, anytime. According to the CDC, an average of 11 people drown every single day in the United States — that’s about 4,000 people per year. Sometimes an accidental fall, lapse in supervision, sudden swimming exhaustion, or even a medical emergency may be to blame. But in some cases, drowning incidents are caused by something very preventable — entrapment against a pool or spa drain. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act was enacted to prevent such incidents. This law requires a rigorously tested set of anti-entrapment safety measures for both new and existing pools. Ensuring that your pool complies with the established drain safety standards may make the difference between a joyous, carefree summer, or one filled with tragedy and heartbreak.
Here are the main points of safety you need to remember for your home's swimming pool:
Replace your drain cover every 5–7 years to avoid the hazards of a broken, expired drain cover.
If your pool drain doesn't meet the requirements of the VGB Act, don't swim while the pump is running.
Teach children about the dangers of entrapment. The drain area is a no-touch, no-play zone!
Secure your pool area with fencing, safety covers, and/or pool alarms to prevent unsupervised pool entry.
Who is Virginia Graeme Baker?
The VGB Act is named after Virginia Graeme Baker, a 7-year-old girl who sadly passed away after being trapped underwater by a hot tub drain's powerful suction. She was a proficient swimmer, so this accident was the last thing anyone ever expected. Graeme, as her family called her, was able to swim without assistance from the age of 3. In fact, she was a champion member of her community’s swimming and diving team.
In June 2002, Graeme was visiting the home of a family friend for a graduation party. According to her mother, Nancy Baker, Graeme entered the pool’s attached hot tub area, and at some point, she became stuck to the hot tub drain. Graeme was unable to pull herself free from the estimated 700+ pounds of suction pressure. Nancy was unable pull her from the water, and it took two strong men to break her free. In a powerful statement Nancy delivered before the Senate, she emphasized that the men had to pull so hard that it actually broke the drain cover responsible for Graeme's entrapment, and also cracked the surrounding cement. Unfortunately, it was too late, and there was nothing anyone could do to bring her back. She drowned in just 4 feet of water.
Graeme’s parents, Nancy and James Baker IV (the son of former Secretary of State James Baker III) worked tirelessly after her death to advocate for pool and spa safety. Partnering with Safe Kids Worldwide, the family lobbied Congress for support of an anti-entrapment law that addressed drain covers and other safety devices. After much persistence, President George W. Bush signed the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act into law in 2007.
What is the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act?
The purpose of this law is to prevent drain entrapment and child drownings in swimming pools and spas. According to the Federal Register, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, also known as the VGB Act (or VGBA for short), is a federal law that requires the design of drain covers or suction outlet fitting assemblies (SOFAs) in public swimming pools and spas to comply with minimum entrapment protection standards.
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) established the guidelines and testing standards required. Specifically, the VGBA references the ASME/ANSI A112.19.8 performance standard and/or any successor standard. The Consumer Product Safety Commission incorporates sections of ANSI/APSP/ICC-16 2017 as the successor SOFA drain cover standard. This newer standard includes stricter testing standards, with additional considerations for flow rates, pipe sizes, and sump depths.
Since the law was first enacted in 2007, it has had the intended impact — the number of annual deaths caused by pool or spa entrapment have greatly decreased.
Pool drain safety tips
The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act requires all public pools and spas to comply with the established ASME/ANSI or successor standards for entrapment protection. However, there’s currently no federal oversight for residential pool and spa applications. Even so, ensuring your at-home pool or spa follows these standards will help keep your loved ones safe. Here are a few guidelines and safety tips that all pool and spa owners should follow:
Ensure your pool drain is safe
In addition to the safety measures listed above, taking a moment to evaluate the safety of your floor or wall drain is a must for any responsible pool or spa owner. The following sections include some other points of safety to consider.
- Drain covers usually expire 5–7 years from the date of installation, depending on the manufacturer. The service life is marked on top of the cover as "Life: X Years" or something similar. Drain covers become brittle over time, so replace expired drain covers to avoid accidents caused by breakage.
- If your drain cover expires, or if it's a non-compliant design, don’t get in the water while the pump is running. Consult with a professional to replace your drain cover as soon as possible.
- If your drain cover is loose, damaged, or missing, don’t get in the water at all until it has been repaired or replaced. Curious children may try to stick their arms, legs, and fingers into the open hole. They can also snag their hair or swimsuit on a loose or broken drain cover. Each of these scenarios is an entrapment hazard, even without suction of a running pump.
- When in doubt, always consult a pool pro. Industry professionals that specialize in drain fittings and drain cover installations will be able to tell you right away if there's a problem. They'll also be familiar with the specifications required to make it a certified installation, as outlined in the product instructions.
- Most drain covers have different flow rate requirements for floor and wall installations, or may only be suitable for one. In either scenario, the maximum flow rate of the pump should not exceed the maximum flow rate of the drain cover.
- Don't run your pump higher than the maximum recommended speed setting or max flow rate for your drain cover. Doing so can produce a high water velocity, which may increase the risk of an entrapment incident.
BONUS TIP: Not sure what flow rate your pump produces? Check with the manufacturer or refer to the specification documents that came with the pump. Also, consider getting a large, sumpless drain cover with a high flow rate, such as the Paramount SDX Retrofit Safety Drain. This drain cover is a universal option, suitable for most residential swimming pools with 8"–10" drain openings. The SDX drain cover is available online and at your local Leslie's.
Anti-entrapment pool safety tips
To add to the safety points listed above, these extra recommendations can help create a safer pool and spa environment for everyone.
- Even if your drain setup is VGBA-compliant, we highly recommend educating your children about the dangers of entrapment. Teach them to be conscientious of drain locations. Never allow them to lean against, sit on, or even touch the drain cover, and discourage deep-diving games around the pool drain. The drain area is a no-play, no-touch zone!
- If you or your child have long hair, there’s an inherent risk of hair entanglement behind the drain cover. To reduce the risk, contain long hair with a braid or tidy bun before entering the pool. VGBA-compliant drains have been carefully designed and thoroughly tested to avoid hair entanglement. However, accidents can — and still do — happen.
- Avoid wearing jewelry like necklaces in the water, as they can become tangled in the drain. Certain swimsuit designs, including those with long strings or fringe, can also pose an entrapment risk.
- Never swim alone! This is particularly true for children, but it applies to adults, as well. Appoint a designated watcher (or two) to keep a close eye on swimmers in the pool. Make sure the person is well-versed in what to do in case of an emergency.
- Make sure the pump's emergency shut-off switch (if applicable) is clearly marked and easily accessible. Anyone should be able to find and use this switch at a moment's notice.
How do I check the safety of my pool or spa drain cover?
If you have a newer pool or spa built since 2008, and/or if a professional replaced your drain cover within the last 5 years and it’s not missing or showing signs of damage, your suction outlet fitting assembly (SOFA) will likely follow the standards outlined in the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. When in doubt, a pool drain professional can help.
Check the drain cover
It’s worth noting that there are generations of VGBA-compliant drains. The original “VGB-2008” drain covers differ slightly from the more current “VGBA-2017” drain covers, in that the new ones follow the updated successor standards and stricter testing requirements of ANSI/APSP/ICC-16 2017. In some instances, two generations of drain covers may look exactly identical, except for the dot and/or a stamp on the cover that says “VGB-2008” or “VGBA-2017.” The main differences between these two seemingly identical drain covers involve passing the stricter testing standards the newer covers were subjected to, as well as the more detailed installation guidelines included with the product packaging.
The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is the color of the dot on top and/or what it says on the topside stamp. A light blue or green dot signifies the older version, while a dark blue dot indicates it has passed the newer, stricter testing standards. It's important to note that not all drain covers have a colored dot. However, all older models should bear at least one of the following stamps:
- ASME/ANSI A112.19.8-2007, -2008a, or -2009b
- ANSI/APSP-16 2011
Here are a couple examples of the older generation VGB-2008 drain covers. Note the stamps on both:
All new drain covers manufactured on or after May 24, 2021, will bear either an ANSI/APSP/ICC-16 2017 stamp and/or a VGBA-2017 stamp. Drain covers from AquaStar Pool Products will also have the dark blue dot in the center, as shown in the close-up example image below. The newer guidelines from the most recent law updates involve stricter testing standards, which include considerations for flow rates, pipe sizes, and sump depths. If the suction outlet fitting assembly doesn't meet these guidelines, it’s not a legal installation. Without following the standards, your drain may pose a risk of entrapment.
When buying a new drain cover for your pool, we strongly recommend hiring an industry professional to install it. They’ll have a thorough understanding of the ins and outs of the safety standards tied to the VGB Act. With this knowledge, they can alert you to any other potential dangers with your pool’s suction line. If there's a problem, they can also provide recommendations or resources to fix it. Some pool owners opt to replace the drain cover every few years, whenever they drain the pool for maintenance or a water refresh. This way, they won’t have to worry about their drain cover expiring. Also, it's generally easier to replace the cover in an empty or partially drained pool. However, there are certain pool service professionals who may offer diving services to replace the drain cover in filled pools.
The legacy of Virginia Graeme Baker
Thanks to the relentless efforts of friends, family, lawmakers, and countless other individuals, the legacy of Virginia Graeme Baker lives on. After an extraordinary tragedy, they turned their grief and sorrow into a powerful movement toward a safer pool and spa environment for all. Needless to say, it has prevented countless deaths and serious injuries that would otherwise be caused by underwater entrapment. But this work won't be complete until every single pool and hot tub — including yours — is equipped with a safe, compliant drain. It takes just minutes to avoid the unthinkable. If you're not sure where to start, our experts can help point you in the right direction. Call or stop by your local Leslie's to learn more, or to be connected with a qualified pool drain expert in your community who can help. We also carry certain safety drain covers in store if you need something quickly.