8 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.

Original Article published by James Coleman on Riotact.

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