.Are pool fences safe?
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:
Bunnings (Protector Aluminium and Highgrove)
Dunn & Farrugia
Our Town Fencing
The Fencing Warehouse
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.
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.