Pool safety is obviously a vital part of owning and using a pool, and when drownings occur it's a sad but compelling reminder about the need to thoroughly and regularly check your pool perimeter – gates, fences and access. Various governments have brought in or are bringing in laws on compulsory inspection – but it should also be something that pool owners do on a regular basis.
In its Swimming Pool Safety Research Report, the Swimming Pool & Spa Association (NSW) found that alarmingly, 43% of swimming pool owners NEVER check their pool fences – despite annual public awareness campaigns and council guidelines.
"Pool fencing should be checked at least once a year to ensure it is not climbable and is in good repair. Furthermore, furniture or other items such as BBQs or planters that children can climb on should never be left near a pool fence," says Chris Fitzmaurice, Swimart's national manager.
In Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and in New Zealand, governments have instituted compulsory pool registrations, while in NSW the state government has recently released a number of options to strengthen the laws around backyard swimming pools and spas in an effort to save young children's lives.
The register in Queensland is state based, with an inspection and a pool safety certificate required when selling or leasing a property with a pool; in Western Australia, inspections are required every four years by council-appointed pool inspectors; in the Northern Territory all pools over 30cm deep require an inspection by a specialised NT government representative; and in New Zealand every pool owner is required to register the existence of a swimming or spa pool with local councils.
In NSW, among the suggestions are the creation of a state-wide swimming pool register, mandatory inspection of pool barriers at the point of lease or sale of a property, and pool inspections to be undertaken by councils for residential, commercial, tourist and visitor accommodation and other multi-occupancy developments.
"Having a pool or spa is one of life's great pleasures, but for the safety of young children, it's imperative that they are properly secured and maintained," says Chris Fitzmaurice, national manager of Swimart.
"Children are naturally inquisitive and have a fascination for water. Nothing replaces close supervision by a responsible adult, but having complying fences and gates around pools and spas goes a long way to reducing the very real danger of children wandering into water they can't handle," says Fitzmaurice.
Key safety tips include:
- Keep fences, gates and child resistant locks in good working order
- Ensure there are no gaps under the fence that young children can climb under
- All fences should be at least 1.2 metres high*
- Gates must swing outward from the pool area and be self closing and latching from any position
- Children should be taught to swim from an early age
- Never leave gates or doors propped open
- Don't leave objects near the fence which children can move to gain access to the pool
- Learn CPR
All pools and spas with a depth of over 30cm require fencing. Non-compliance with the regulations risks lives, and pool owners could incur fines.
*Each state in Australia has its own laws regarding pool fencing, so check with your local SPASA or local council.
A comparison of pool registration and inspection policies around Australia:
|STATE||REGISTRATION POLICY||INSPECTION POLICY|
|QLD||Yes. Compulsory in a state based register. All to be registered by November 2011||Yes. An inspection and a pool safety certificate is required when selling or leasing a property with a pool|
|WA||Yes. Compulsory, on a council based register||Yes. At least every four years, by council appointed pool inspectors|
|NSW||None||Yes. After construction of a pool, or following a complaint from the public about a non-compliant pool. Some councils conduct limited inspections|
|VIC||None||None. Some councils conduct limited inspections|
|SA||None||Yes. After construction of a pool, and at the point of sale of a property with a pool|
|ACT||None||Yes. After construction of a pool. This may change when the results of the ACT government discussion paper about pool and spa safety are announced|
|NT||Yes. All pools over 30cm deep require an inspection by a NT government Water Safety Unit representative||Yes. After construction of a new pool. Inspections conducted by a NT government Water Safety Unit representative.|
|TAS||None||Yes. After construction of a pool, or following a complaint from the public about a non-compliant pool. Some councils conduct limited inspections|
|NEW ZEALAND||Yes. Under the Fencing of Swimming Pools Act every pool owner is required to register the existence of a swimming or spa pool with Council. Further, every owner or person in control of a pool is required to ensure that the pool complies with the requirements of this Act.||Certain councils* have swimming pool inspectors who check properties for compliance with the Fencing of
Swimming Pools Act. Existing pools are randomly audited by inspectors at least once every three years to ensure they continue to comply with the Act once built. New pools require an inspection as part of the building consent process. The inspection of the pool will include an assessment of the fencing.
There is nothing in New Zealand law to stop a homeowner selling a property with a non-complying pool or pool fence. However, prospective property buyers should be aware that as soon as a property with a non-complying pool passes into their ownership they will be responsible for any remedial work required to comply with the Fencing of Swimming Pools Act 1987
*Check with your local council