With approximately 30 plus children a year being impacted by backyard swimming pool accidents, causing drowning or injury, it is time governments stood up and delivered severe penalties and awareness for non-compliant pool owners, barrier installers and barrier manufacturers.
One of the most significant problems we see here in Australia is that the rules and Australian Standards around pool fencing (barriers) differ somewhat between each state and territory, which makes educating people and kids about the dangers difficult, frustrating and utterly confusing.
The solution is simple: have standard laws and simple regulations put into place across the nation, and make annual inspections, certification and maintenance plans mandatory.
Recently in the Northern Territory, a toddler drowned in a spa and the same rules apply for barriers as for spas. The Northern Territory has one of the highest drowning rates per capita in Australia, with 10 child drowning deaths since 2011. In 2013, an 11-month-old girl died in an unfenced pool in a backyard, another two-year-old boy drowned in a backyard pool and a third child had to be resuscitated after almost drowning in a pool. This is totally unacceptable and absolutely preventable!
The NT Swimming Pool Safety Act, which requires a barrier around swimming pools and spas, only applies to properties smaller than 1.8 hectares. How is this possible? Why would a property smaller than 1.8 hectares be any less dangerous having an unfenced swimming pool than a residential pool? In NSW it is two hectares. Why?
Water is water; it does not differ in any way, shape of form from state to state nor in other countries, so why are the Regulations and legislated Acts different? We have had an Australian Standard in place since 1976 so there is no excuse for not getting it right. A well-maintained barrier will last as long as the barrier element allows it to.
In NSW, in excess of 90 per cent of the state's 700,000 odd pools or similar fail to be compliant. What makes this fact even more infuriating is that the NSW Government had twice delayed implementing more stringent pool barrier rules. Therefore it is still legal to sell or lease a property that is non-compliant.
The Swimming Pool Act and Regulations state warning signs are to be displayed in pool areas, yet out of the 1,800 pools I inspect, only one has warning signs, which is my own pool.
Here are some simple regulations that must be followed according to Swimming Pool Regulation 2008's portion on warning notices:
"(1) For the purposes of section 17 (1) of the Act, the sign referred to in that
subsection must bear a notice that contains all of the following:
- (a) the words:
(i) “YOUNG CHILDREN SHOULD BE SUPERVISED WHEN USING THIS SWIMMING POOL”, and
(ii) “POOL GATES MUST BE KEPT CLOSED AT ALL TIMES”, and
(iii) “KEEP ARTICLES, OBJECTS AND STRUCTURES AT LEAST 900 MILLIMETER’S CLEAR OF THE POOL FENCE AT ALL TIMES”,
- (b) a simple flow sequence (which may be the flow sequence depicted in the Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Guideline) containing details of resuscitation techniques (for infants, children and adults):
(i) that are set out in accordance with the relevant provisions of that Guideline, and
(ii) that comply with the other relevant guidelines of the Australian Resuscitation Council, and
(iii) that are illustrated by drawings with key words only in bold print,
- (c) a statement to the effect that formal instruction in resuscitation is essential,
- (d) the name of the teaching organisation or other body that published the sign and the date of its publication.
(2) However, any sign erected between 1 September 1995 and 31 August 2008 that bears a notice in accordance with clause 9 (a) and (b) of the Swimming Pools Regulation 1998 (as in force immediately before its repeal) is taken to comply with this clause.
11 Legibility of warning notices
For the purposes of section 17 (1) of the Act, the sign referred to in that subsection:
(a) must be legible from a distance of at least 3 metres, and
(b) must be maintained in a clearly legible condition.
Safety Precautions and advice on maintenance:
- Adults supervising children should be able to swim;
- CPR charts by all pools and parents trained in CPR;
- No alcohol when supervising children around swimming pools;
- Educating home pool owners on pool barrier safety;
- Mandatory pool inspections by suitably qualified, accredited and or certified pool barrier safety inspectors;
- Owners of premises with swimming pools, including inflatable swimming pools, must ensure their pools comply with fencing laws;
- Never prop or deliberately leave open a pool barrier gate;
- Remove anything that a child could use to climb up into, over or through the pool barrier, (fence);
- Advise your older children to never been seen by the younger ones on how to open the pool barrier gate;
- Barbecues in yards with pools can be the brunt of a drowning due to uncontrollable alcohol fused situations and parents sick of kids constantly asking, can I go in the pool now!”;
- Ensure all trees do not enter the 900mm no climb zones;
- Regularly open and close the pool barrier gate and test from 180, 90, 45 degrees and at resting position as after this test many gates DO NOT SELF CLOSE and or LATCH