Passes and failures
All the fences on test passed dimensional aspects required by the standard. This means they are high enough, the gaps between their vertical bars aren’t too wide and they have no climbing footholds. They also passed the “strength of components” test, so their bars and welds are strong enough to withstand reasonably strong forces, such as from a heavy bump. In our last report in 2004 one fence failed this test; that company appears to be no longer trading.
However, five of the 16 tested fences failed the “strength and rigidity of openings” test, which checks whether the vertical bars are rigid enough to stop an opening being forced to a size that would allow a young child to gain entry. This is a better result than in 2004, when 18 of the 31 fences failed this test, but is still not good enough. Any fence that fails this test could pose a safety hazard.
Small variations may be to blame
Some manufacturers whose products failed our test queried our results, saying their fences are tested and certified as meeting the Australian standard. There are subtle but potentially significant differences between the 2007 version of the standard, which we tested to, and the older 1993 version which many manufacturers still use and which is often referenced in pool fence regulations; this could account for why we found different results for some fences.
Small manufacturing variations could also account for why their products failed our test. For example, the distance between the vertical bars might be a few millimetres larger than intended, or a section of metal tubing might be slightly thinner (and therefore weaker) than usual. A few millimetres can make the difference between passing and failing. Even with products for which a mandatory standard has been in effect for years (such as cots), we sometimes find samples that fail to meet the standard, despite that model being certified; manufacturing variations, either in materials or processes, usually account for this.
Following manufacturer responses, we obtained and tested more samples of the ARC Fences Eden flat top and Bunnings flat and loop top fences against the “strength and rigidity of openings” test. The ARC fence passed this second round, as did some of the Bunnings panels, but one each of the Bunnings flat top and loop top fences again failed the test. See the table below for the full results.
Bunnings mends its fences
Following our test, Bunnings conducted further testing and found a wide range of variance in the strength and rigidity of the uprights in some samples. They have therefore withdrawn some stock from stores. From late April 2009, their supplier, Protector Aluminium, will manufacture the fences to a higher specification, ensuring the fence consistently meets the standard by a comfortable margin.
Bunnings is confident that existing installations of its pool fences don’t present a high risk. However, if you have a flat top pool fence from Bunnings and are concerned about its safety, you can contact Protector Aluminium on 1300 724 588 for a free on-site test.