8 March 2018

ACT government's regulation for fences around pools a couple of years away

| Lachlan Roberts
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With the Backyard Lifeguard pool safety campaign now wrapped up, the ACT Government will now begin the first phase of our safer pools consultation. Photo: File photo.

The ACT government will dip its toe into the water and consult with industry, pool owners and the Canberra community before it hardens its safety regulation to ensure all swimming pools in the ACT have boundaries.

Legislation for improved safety standards might be years away as the Government looks to give reasonable time for pool owners to bring their pools in line with standards.

While all new pools are required to have fences surrounding it, there are no requirements to upgrade existing pools and spas. This means that in many streets and neighbourhoods there are pools that are easily accessible and pose real dangers.

The Minister for Planning and Land Management, Mick Gentleman, said the ACT Government wants to ensure all swimming and spa pools are safe and will now begin to take steps over the coming years to ensure every backyard pool in the territory meets modern safety standards.

Mr Gentleman said “the indisputable fact” is pool barriers save lives and every pool in the ACT should have a pool barrier that meets modern safety standards but the “process of developing and legislating an inspection regime is likely to take a few years”.

The Minister said the first step to increasing safety standards was to talk to industry about how a pool safety inspection regime might work and how long installers would need to bring every pool up to modern standards. Pool barrier inspections, training for industry and technical standards will be discussed by the Minister and the industry before boundaries are set around existing pools.

The second stage before increasing safety standards in the ACT requires conversations with pool owners about what would be a fair timeline for this transition, to ensure a system that is effective and achievable for pool owners.

After the consultations with industry, Canberrans will have a chance to have their say on this issue through the yoursay website and other forums later in 2018.

Though fences and boundaries are compulsory on every pool in Queensland and New South Wales, Mr Gentleman said the ACT will need to establish its legislation and an operational scheme that works with other laws and systems in the ACT.

“The experience in other jurisdictions shows time should be allocated for working through legal and administrative aspects and establishing the scheme. This includes clearly communicating what people’s obligations are and ensuring there are adequate numbers of suitably qualified people to undertake inspections and pool upgrades.”

The Building Code of Australia (BCA) sets out the current standards for constructing new or altering existing residential swimming pools or spa pools and are designed to help restrict the access of children under five years old to a swimming pool, spa pool or pool area.

These standards apply to pools in the ACT and include the requirements for pool barriers. In accordance with the BCA, a barrier must be provided around a swimming or spa pool that has a depth of water more than 300mm and must:

  • be continuous for the full extent of the hazard
  • be of a strength and rigidity to withstand the foreseeable impact of people
  • restrict the access of young children to the pool and the immediate pool surrounds
  • have any gates and doors fitted with latching devices not readily operated by young children and constructed to automatically close and latch.

When RiotACT asked why the Minister is talking about years when the problem has been well identified and children, in particular, continue to drown, Mr Gentleman said that no barrier is a substitute for proper supervision and people should closely watch children around pools.

“Canberrans can choose to upgrade their pool barriers now if they have concerns they don’t meet required safety standards and we encourage them to do so. We need to consult, develop and have legislation duly considered by the Legislative Assembly, establish the administrative scheme, ensure we have enough properly trained people to inspect and install pool barriers and give reasonable time for pool owners to bring their pools in line with standards.”

“As a community, we are all responsible for safety around pools and together we can reduce the risk of children drowning in backyard pools in the ACT,” Mr Gentleman said.

The Government has been promising for years to improve legislation and has supported public awareness campaigns including the ‘backyard lifesavers’ campaign over the last couple of summers. With each delay, another summer rolls on and the danger continues, making us wonder how long will it be before the ACT government implements these stronger safety standards and puts fences around all pools.

Do you think a couple of years is too long to wait till all pools are required to have fences and boundaries around them? Let us know what you think below

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