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Pool fences review and compare

Are pool fences safe enough to keep up with changing regulations?
 
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01 .Are pool fences safe?

Swimming pool

Tragically, children under five are still drowning in backyard swimming pools. Adequate, well-maintained home pool fencing – combined with active supervision – plays a crucial part in preventing these deaths. In the 11 years to mid-2013, the Royal Life Saving Society – Australia (RLSS) recorded 215 drowning deaths of children aged under five in home swimming pools. 

"Prior to 2012-13 we had seen pleasing consistent downward trends in the figures," says Amy Peden, national manager of research and policy at RLSS. "However, the 25 home pool drowning deaths recorded around the country in 2012-13 are a powerful reminder that further work needs to be done."

New pools, new rules

In a bid to prevent further fatalities, swimming pool regulations nationwide are being reviewed. New regulations in several Australian states either require, or will require, homeowners to provide a current compliance certificate from a certified pool safety inspector when the property is being sold or leased.

Old pools in particular are under the spotlight. Most new pools in Australia have requirements for four-sided pool fencing with self-closing and self-latching gates. But there are still a lot of pools which do not meet this requirement, according to Richard Franklin, Associate Professor at the College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences at James Cook University. The legislative changes are partly an attempt to bring old pools up to either a current or improved standard, he says. (For more on the rules on each state, see Pool fencing regulations.)

How we test

To assess the strength and safety of pool fences currently on sale, CHOICE purchased 22 panels and tested them against key sections of the Australian pool safety standard. We can't cover the entire market, so we focused on a mix of manufacturers servicing Sydney and surrounds, as well as national suppliers.

Glass pool fence panels are now extremely popular and feature in our testing for the first time. We also tested the strength of nine compatible posts and spigots required to hold the glass panels in place. We tested fence panels and spigots from the following suppliers:

ARC Fences
Bunnings (Protector Aluminium and Highgrove)
Dunn & Farrugia
Masters
Our Town Fencing
Poolsafe Fencing
The Fencing Warehouse
R&N Fencing
Stratco

Our tester, Antonio Bonacruz, assesses metal pool fences against key elements of the pool fencing standard AS1926.1-2012. He measures the fences to ensure they meet dimensional requirements such as height, and whether there is an adequate "non-climbable" area (without footholds or handholds) of at least 90cm. Antonio also applies a 330N (around 33kg) force to the bars to test the barrier strength. They must not permanently deform, break or come loose. He tries to push a cylindrical steel probe through the bars at three locations at up to 150N (around 15kg) to see whether the bars are strong and rigid enough to stop a young child squeezing through (pictured). Lastly, he examines the finish of the panels to check for sharp edges and other hazards.pool clause 31 app A small

To test glass panels, posts and spigots, we test to relevant clauses in the standard: we apply a force to the middle of the glass panels to test their strength (AS1926.1-2007), and conduct a strength test to posts and spigots to assess whether they are strong enough to keep the glass panels securely in place. CHOICE does not currently test pool fence gates, as we think their effectiveness largely depends on correct usage and installation. However, it's vital to monitor how well the gate is working as it is the weakest part of the barrier. Make sure the gate self-closes from any position and self-latches. According to pool fencing experts, gates last five to ten years, depending on weather conditions and how often they're used.

 
 

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In the past five years, we've seen positive improvements in pool safety regulations across several Australian states. An inspection regime and pool safety register have been introduced in Queensland, as well as a pool safety register and inspections at the point of sale and lease in New South Wales, according to Amy Peden, national manager of research and policy at the Royal Life Saving Society Australia.

However, there are still different regulations across states and territories. Royal Life Saving has long been campaigning for a unified approach to pool fencing, as it thinks that navigating the legislation in your state or territory can be confusing and dependent on the age of your pool.

NSW

Households are required to complete a pool safety self-assessment checklist and register their pool online. From 29 April 2015, pools sold or leased in NSW need a certificate of compliance from an accredited pool safety inspector.

Western Australia

WA has led the way with the reform of swimming pool safety regulations and was the first state to require mandatory pool inspections every four years. Local government issues building permits for swimming pools. Once a structure has been approved, it is registered so that periodic inspections can take place. See the WA Building Commission's Rules for Pools and Spas for more information.

Queensland

There is now one pool safety standard in Queensland (where there used to be 11). As in NSW, swimming pools need to be included on its pool safety register. A current compliance certificate is required whenever the property is being sold or leased; a certificate lasts for two years so long as no amendments are made to the property. Existing pools need to be upgraded to meet standards by 30 November 2015.

Victoria

The Victorian Building Authority warns that all pools built since 2010 require a four-sided fence, with no direct access to the house from the pool surround. It has issued a brochure outlining the rules, available online or from local councils.

South Australia

New pools in SA require inspection by council for compliance – this reform has been in place since 1 January 2014. Any property being sold with a pool built before July 1993 needs to meet current standards for new pools. For more, see the SA government's regulations regarding pool safety.

Australian Capital Territory

The ACT government is "reviewing reforms similar reforms recently implemented in NSW and Queensland". Since 2010, all new pool fences need to conform to strict building standards. The ACT is considering whether older properties also need to be upgraded to meet the standard. A discussion paper outlines the main concerns surrounding pool fencing.

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory government's Swimming Pool Safety Act outlines pool fencing compliance requirements. Pools built after January 2003 need to comply with its Modified Australian Standard. For pools built before then, owners need to self-declare that their pool will prevent a child under five from gaining unsupervised access to the pool, and minimum standards must be met when the property is being sold or leased. The NT's Swimming Pool Fencing Unit has more information.

Pool fences come in an array of materials and designs to suit your home.

Flat top or loop top metal fence Flat and loop top pool fences

With flat-top designs, the vertical bars are fixed and welded inside flat horizontal upper and lower rails.

In loop-top fences, sections of tubular pipe are bent through the upper rail so that each section of pipe forms two vertical bars rather than one.

Steel or aluminium?

Tubular aluminium fencing is light yet strong, and more popular than steel. Aluminium's less susceptible to rusting than steel, but both types are usually powder-coated or galvanised to protect them from the elements.

Safety glass

freedom glass round core drill smallThis is a popular but expensive option. Panels are held in place by posts and spigots of various designs which are core-drilled or bolted into the concrete. Choose from various styles: framed, frameless, semi-frameless or even in-ground, where panels sit inside a steel channel. Sheets can be cut to size or you can get off-the-shelf panels (1200mm x 1200mm). Posts and spigots can cost just as much, if not more, than the glass, but they're there to provide stability and strength.

Standard certification

The fence should be certified as meeting Australian Standard AS 1926.1. Safety glass panels need to comply with AS 1288.

Installation

The installer must be familiar with local pool fence regulations. If installing it yourself, contact your local council and state government to get a copy of all applicable laws and pool fencing guidelines. When the fence is complete, obtain a certificate of compliance.

Height

Pool fences need to be 1200mm high when installed. The standard allows for 100mm ground clearance underneath, so panels slightly lower may still meet the standard, provided the gap underneath is sufficient. We only recommend buying metal panels that are 1200mm tall to begin with, to allow for installation inconsistencies when encountering sloping or uneven ground.

Once the pool fence is installed, ongoing maintenance is crucial. Floods, storms and droughts can weaken the fence footings, for example. The Royal Life Saving Society Australia (RLSS) recommends checking your pool at the start of swimming season each year. It has developed a printable home pool safety checklist and interactive app.

The RLSS also recommends familiarising yourself with its Keep Watch program. This includes:

  • Supervise: Ensure that when your child is in, on or around the water, they are within arm's reach and have your undivided attention at all times.
  • Restrict access: Ensure you have a correctly installed and regularly maintained compliant pool fence.
  • Water awareness: Enroll your child in a water familiarisation class such as Royal Life Saving's Swim and Survive Wonder program. Set rules for children, such as no going near water without an adult.
  • Resuscitate: Be prepared to respond in an emergency. Enroll in a resuscitation course and update your skills annually.

We also advise that you:

  • Keep your pool fence and gate in good repair and make sure the gate latches automatically when shut. A significant number of drownings occur in pools that have no fence, or an inadequate or poorly maintained one.
  • Don't prop or tie the gate open, even for a short time.
  • Don't leave any objects near the fence that a child could use as a climbing aid.
  • Three-sided pool fencing (with direct access from the house to the pool area) is still permitted for many older pools, but four-sided fencing is safer, as it completely separates the pool area from the house. At the least, make sure any doors or windows opening onto the pool area are secure and lockable, and preferably self-closing.
  • Display a guide to CPR near the pool (this is mandatory in many areas).
  • Familiarise your children with water and teach them to swim as early as possible, but bear in mind this isn't a substitute for supervision and good fencing; youngsters who can swim may still get into difficulties and drown.
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