01.Pool fences - are they safe?
In 2007-08, 16 children aged four years or younger drowned in swimming pools in Australia. Such tragedies could have been avoided with adequate pool fencing, says a recent Queensland study. The study showed the great majority of toddler drowning deaths in domestic pools between 1992 and 2001 occurred in pools that did not comply with fencing requirements – including pools with no fencing, inadequate fences or gates that were tied or propped open.
In all Australian states, pool fences are required for domestic swimming pools, but while regulations have been in place in most states since at least the early 1990s, they aren’t enforced as rigorously as they could be. Local councils administer pool fencing regulations in most areas, and usually inspect the fence when it’s first constructed. But pool fences can fall into disrepair over time, and so far only WA requires ongoing inspections every four years to ensure the fence still meets requirements. Queensland is currently considering a similar regime.
Although no pool fence can replace the need to supervise young children at all times in and around the pool, adequate pool fencing is an integral part of pool safety. Correct installation and use are essential, but it’s also vital that the fence be correctly designed and sturdily built so that youngsters can’t climb it or squeeze through the bars.
Please note: this information was current as of April 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.
To find out the safety of pool fences currently on the market, CHOICE tested 16, purchased in Sydney and Wollongong, against key sections of the Australian standard AS 1926.1-2007. We didn’t test gates, as their key safety aspects (such as their ability to self-close) depend very much on correct installation.
There are three stages at which the safety of a pool fence or its components should be assessed:
- At time of manufacture.
- At installation.
- At regular intervals after installation.
We tested fence panels from the following suppliers:
- Amazing Fences
- ARC Fences
- Dunn & Farrugia
- Fencing and Gate
- Kelui Tooling
- Our Town Fencing
Time for a mandatory standard
Most jurisdictions require pool owners (particularly of newly constructed pools) to install pool fences that meet the Australian standard. However, there’s no mandatory safety standard applied to pool fences at the time of retail – in other words, the onus is on the consumer to install a standard-compliant fence, but not on the manufacturer or retailer to supply one.
CHOICE believes that just as pool fencing itself is mandatory, the Australian standard for pool fencing should also be mandatory, so consumers can be confident any fence they buy will comply with safety regulations and can be recalled if found to be faulty. Responsible fence manufacturers already routinely test their fences to the standard, so this would not be a burden to most companies.
We also believe pool fence installers should be licensed to ensure they know the relevant regulations. And last, but far from least, regular inspection, as is done in WA, should be implemented in all states to ensure pool fences aren’t just safe when installed, but remain safe for the rest of their existence.