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Keep your kids safe this summer

Summer is approaching and pool owners will be thinking about hot summer days spent relaxing in their cool pool.

Now’s the time to check that your pool, spa pool or hot tub is going to keep children safe.

Southland District Council’s building compliance team is aware of around 160 pools in the district. Initially the team recorded a 90% failure rate for pool safety barriers during inspections. Now it has come down marginally, to 66%, but that is still way too high.

“We’re working with people to achieve compliance,’’ says building compliance team leader Simon Tonkin.

“People think tragedy will never happen to them, but kids love water. It’s a big attraction for them, and as we know it can lead to disaster.
“We’re saying that owners need to do all they can to protect children from becoming another sad statistic.”

Gates on pool fences are the main point of failure, he says. To be effective in protecting your children, gates must be self-closing and latch properly when released gently from any open position.

The gate must not be impeded by anything such as a hedge or other vegetation or uneven ground that would prevent it from swinging shut under its own momentum.
The latch must be at least 1500mm above ground level.

The original guiding legislation is the Fencing and Swimming Pools Act 1987, which prescribed the rules for pool barriers.

The legislation was amended in 2017 to allow spa pools/hot tubs under five square metres that are a suitable height above the ground and which must have a lockable cover. If your spa pool /hot tub doesn’t meet these criteria then it needs a fence around it, and you need a building consent for the fence.

Council is taking the approach that spa pool/hot tub owners will have one inspection to ensure their spa pool or hot tub is compliant, and then they will receive three-yearly followup letters to remind them about meeting their responsibilities.

“The inspection is to put them on the right track,” Simon says. “After that, there’s an assumption in the law and a level of trust that pool owners will do what’s needed to protect children.”

Pools with barriers are required to be inspected every three years.

“It doesn’t matter whether the pool owners don’t have children themselves. The rules are there to protect any children who may visit.”

And it works. Compliance team member Adam Grice says the highest cause of drowning deaths for children under five is domestic pools. Before the legislation came in in 1987, 30 kids under five drowned every year and more than 100 were hospitalised. Now it’s an average of two children drowned per year and 10 hospitalised.

Key safety messages for pool owners are:

  • make sure you check your pool
  • make sure your pool fence gates swing closed and latch properly from any open position
  • keep trees, bushes or hedges around your pool fence trimmed back
  • make sure there is nothing around your fence, including pool furniture, that kids can climb up to get over your fence and into your pool
  • mechanical spa pool lid lifters are not compliant, so if you have one on your spa/hot tub you need to fence the pool area.


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