The Royal Life Saving Society reports that the number of children drowning in Australia increased by 48% over the past year. With two-thirds of these deaths taking place in swimming pools, clearly not enough is being done to keep pools safe.
What’s even sadder is that the number one cause of underage pool drowning is absolutely preventable. 50% of accidents are caused by a poorly maintained pool fence. Imagine having your child, or a neighbour’s child, die in your swimming pool because you were too busy to replace a gate latch?
It’s not rocket science. If you own a pool, it’s your responsibility to keep it safe.
New South Wales upped the ante in 2010.
It’s pretty tough to legally force homeowners to retrofit construction that was up to code when it was built, but the government of New South Wales has taken pool safety one step further by eliminating some of the loopholes that exempted some pool owners from pool fence regulations in the past.
It used to be that pools on extremely small (or sufficiently large) properties weren’t required to be fully fenced. Waterfront pools were also allowed to skirt the law. But as of 1 July 2010, all new pools must be fenced in, with no exceptions. The new law applied equally to built-in, above-ground and large inflatable pools.
If you’re the owner of a fence-free pool built prior to the passing of the new legislation, this doesn’t mean that you’re a lucky dog, it means that you’ve got a tragedy waiting to happen right there in your back yard. You may not be legally obligated to throw up a fence, but wouldn’t it take a load off to know that your pool is safe?
What good is a fence you can climb?
There’s no point in building a fence if it doesn’t do it’s job. An approved pool fence measures 1.2m tall, with no more than 10cm clearance between the ground and bottom rail. Vertical bars need to be 10cm apart max, and there must be at least 90cm between horizontal bars to prevent climbing.
Arching out 90cm from the outside perimeter of your fence is what’s called the “non-climbable zone” and pool owners are legally required to ensure that this area is kept clear of any trees, shrubs, or furniture that might allow a child to climb and reach the top of the fence.
A stitch in time saves nine.
Proper fence maintenance starts with the gate. Fence gates should be self-closing and self-latching, and checked regularly to ensure that it is able to close and latch all on it’s own. Common problems that can cause gate malfunction are rusted hinges and springs, as well as sagging gates that scrape on the ground. Lubricate spring mechanisms with oil or silicone and replace springs when necessary.
Fencing panels and/or bars ought to be monitored for rust or wear and tear. Gaps in the fencing must be repaired immediately. Similarly, all bolts, screws, and fasteners need to be checked regularly and tightened or replaced when loose or broken.
Finally, walk the non-climbable zone to check for any plants or objects that compromise the integrity of your barrier. Fence maintenance is neither difficult nor expensive, so there’s really no excuse for not doing it, right?
All eyes on you.
As of 29 October 2013, all backyard swimming pools must be registered statewide. Part of the registration process is certifying to the best of your knowledge your barrier complies with regulations. Registration can be done at swimmingpoolregister.nsw.gov.au.
For more information about pool fencing, common faults, and how to inspect your pool, see the Kid’s Health page on the Children’s Hospital website.
Let’s work together to see to it that not one more Australian child dies unnecessarily due to a poorly looked after pool fence or gate.