6 February 2023

What's new about the ACT's proposed rules for the pool?

| James Coleman
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New legislation to improve pool safety is just around the corner. Photo: File.

The rules around home swimming pools are about to change in the ACT, and even if you only blow up the paddling pool for the kids twice a summer, you’ll want to know how.

The proposed reforms will “require all home swimming pools to have a barrier compliant with modern safety standards”, with a grace period to give homeowners time to install one.

For now, the ACT Government has opened the rules up to community feedback on the YourSay Conversations website. This closes on 15 March, with an eye to introducing the legislation in June 2023.

What’s changing?

Currently, pool owners in the ACT are held to the standard that applied when their pool was constructed.

Since 2004, any pool deeper than 30 centimetres must have a fence at least 1.2 metres high around it. Before that, requirements were looser to include a “suitable barrier or safety fencing”, with no need to upgrade as standards improved.

The new rules will require all home swimming pools – no matter the age – to have barriers compliant with modern safety standards. There will then be regular inspections and penalties for those that don’t meet the standards. This compliance will be ensured by a new government-approved certificate.

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What’s included?

All swimming pools and spa pools associated with a residential building, such as a house, unit, townhouse or block of apartments, and capable of holding more than 30 cm of water.

And yes, this includes portable or inflatable paddle pools.

But there is a loophole that stipulates as long as the portable pool is not full of water for more than three days, there’s no need for a fence.

Other exemptions include if you’d have to knock down part of a building or a protected tree to put up the barrier.

You’ll also be glad to hear you can still have your bath or inside spa deeper than 30 centimetres without constructing a fence around it.

What’s a compliant pool barrier?

Your pool must be surrounded by a fence at least 1.2 metres high all the way around, with a “non-climbable zone” of at least 90 cm (ie, no handles or footholds). The gate must be self-closing from any open position (even slightly ajar) and the latch mechanism must be more than 1.5 metres from the ground.

This safety standard hasn’t changed since May 2013, so if your pool was built since then, you should be fine.

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How often will my pool be checked?

Until now, the ACT Government has lacked the pool safety inspectors to enforce legislation in private backyards. This is still the case, but they’ve got a plan.

A ‘certificate of compliance’ is coming as part of the new rules. This must be issued every five years by a licenced building surveyor or approved installer and then lodged with the government. If the pool fails, the property owner or owners corporation will be given a prescribed statutory period (for example, 28 days) to fix the issue.

The compliance status of a pool must also be disclosed to any buyers or renters of the property.

Why is the government seeking to update the rules?

In the ACT, the home swimming pool is the most common location for drowning death and injury for children under five.

Four children under five have drowned in backyard pools in Canberra over the past 16 years.

Calls for change to pool fencing rules reached a crescendo in 2018 when the ACT Coroner’s Court handed down its findings in the case of 21-month-old River Arama Parry, who drowned in an unfenced pool in Fisher on 30 December 2015. The pool in question was built in 1986 and lacked child locks or self-closing mechanisms.

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James-T-Kirk4:28 pm 09 Feb 23

I’m going to open a new business called “Compliant Pools R us” – our business focus will be to put in place efficient systems to make the most $$$ from any customers in order to get their pool fences compliant.

The beauty of the business is that it is repeat – Every time the standard changes we get to fleece everybody again and again. Soon nobody will want to keep a bucket of water in the backyard.

As a pool owner, who had a pool modified a couple of years ago, I lost a fight with a pencil neck assessor when the perfectly compliant fence was magically deemed to be non-compliant. it was the appropriate height, and stopped kids from climbing it, but who knows what the problem was. The beauty of the inspection system was that I paid hundreds of dollars for a report that simply said “non compliant”. So if it seems like I am jaded, it’s because I am.

Now to use this wonderful new legislation to claw back all the money I lost by tearing the fence down and having a new one installed for only $8k. Still not knowing what the problem was.

Happy times ahead….. now – where on the ACT government website is the application to be a pencil neck assessor form.

I’m relieved that I don’t have to put a fence around my bathroom spa bath since the water level is higher than 30 cm and I have had my grandchildren enjoying their baths when they were little.

Every time I visit Europe I note with interest that an increasing number of homes have backyard swimming pools with none of them fenced off. ON one of my visits I spent a day at some people’s home that had no fencing around the property at all, a pool in the yard and a river across the road from their house.

Colin Trinder2:06 pm 06 Feb 23

This comes up every 5 years or so and each time I’ve had it guaranteed that it won’t be mandatory for historic approvals. My house and pool are over 50 years old and the access to the back yard from the house and external laundry is via the elevated pool deck. My yard is 1.8m fenced and there are pool compliant self closing gates to the yard but it would be impossible to make the pool compliant with these proposals without contravening other building safety regulations (like the pool gate opening out over the stairs to the back yard) or losing access to the back yard. Ancient approvals should be risk assessed to make the risk as low as practicable but mandating historic approvals be made full compliant is over reach and unnecessary.

And exactly when is the ACT government going to put fencing around the many public waterways, lakes and ponds accessible to the public. Why one rule for me and my private, without children, fenced backyard – and another for the government owned bodies of out-in-the-open, accessible to anyone, anytime – including children, bodies of water ?

Middle to upper class pool levy

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