A pool in the backyard is a brilliant way to keep the kids active and outdoors during the warmer months, having fun and making memories – but sadly, accidents do happen. Drownings in backyard swimming pools occur every year in Australia, and all too often the child finds their way into the pool because of an inadequate pool fence or gate. That's why it's the law in every Australian state and territory that swimming pools must be correctly fenced, and are inspected and registered to ensure compliance.

There are a lot of pool fences available, from DIY aluminium fence panels at your local hardware store to the latest in glass panel style. Of course you want to keep the kids safe and the pool area looking smart, but how do you choose the best fence? How much should you pay, and what about installation?

Choosing a safe fence

Pool fences should meet the relevant Australian Standard, AS1926.1.

A fence that meets the standard:

  • won't have gaps that are wide enough for a toddler to squeeze through
  • won't have any climbing footholds
  • is at least 1.2m high with no more than 100mm ground clearance
  • will be strong and rigid enough that a child can't force a gap in the bars or mesh
  • will have materials and welds strong enough to withstand a heavy knock.

What styles are there?

The style and look of your fence is a personal decision – as long as it meets the standard, you can go wild design-wise. Here are a few of the main styles.

Aluminium and steel fences are typically made with tubular upright bars joined by upper and lower rails.

  • Flat top fences have vertical tube bars which are fixed and welded inside flat horizontal upper and lower rails.
  • Loop-top fences have sections of tubular pipe bent through the upper rail so that each section of pipe forms two vertical bars rather than one.
  • Double-top fences have two upper horizontal rails with decorative metalwork incorporated. This results in a similar effect to the loop-top design, with a shorter section of vertical bar than in an equivalent height flat-top fence.
  • Wire-based fences use thick vertical wires or rods instead of tubular rods. They are often more expensive per panel than the flat and loop-top fences, but are well worth considering. Wire-based fencing can be bought in galvanised or powder-coated finishes.

Safety glass is another popular material for pool fences. Glass panels are held in place by posts and spigots of various designs which are core-drilled or bolted into the concrete. You can choose from an array of looks: framed, frameless, semi-frameless or even in-ground, where panels sit inside a steel channel. Posts and spigots can cost just as much, if not more, than the glass, but they're there to provide stability and strength. Safety glass:

  • is made from solid sheets so there are no gaps for a child to squeeze through or climb (provided the panels are correctly installed)
  • is less visually obtrusive than most steel or aluminium fences
  • comes in various thicknesses – usually 8, 10 and 12mm
  • can be significantly more expensive than metal fencing, particularly as you'll need to purchase posts and spigots to hold the glass panels in place.

What about inflatable kiddy pools?

Inflatable pools are also subject to fencing laws, as young children can drown in water only a few centimetres deep. If the pool is deeper than 30cm, it must be fenced. As of March 2014, portable pools must be labeled with appropriate safety warnings, including whether pool fencing laws apply.

Can I install the fence myself?

Well, you can, but you'll need to understand the regulations for pool fencing so that you get distances between the fence, pool and house correct, not to mention leaving correct-sized gaps at the bottom of the fence, and making sure the gate is balanced so it self-closes and self-latches easily. Unless you're handy with tools and able to find and understand the regulations, you may be better off getting the fence installed professionally.

What are the pool safety laws in my state?

 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 Royal Life Saving Society Australia.

However, there are still different regulations across states and territories, particularly if you have an older pool which isn't up to the current standard. Some changes are being made to help bring older pools up to scratch, but there's still a way to go. 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. 

Don't get caught out with dodgy or incorrectly installed pool fencing – not only are you putting lives in danger, but you can be fined for breaching pool fence laws.

 

Maintenance and safety

Once the fence is built, keep it well-maintained. Check for loose bars or panels periodically. Never prop the gate open, and check it regularly to ensure the self-latching and self-closing mechanisms are working smoothly. According to pool fencing experts, gates will last between five and ten years, depending on how they're used.

Don't leave items nearby such as furniture and pot plants that a child can use to climb over the fence. Consulting the Royal Life Saving Society's printable home pool safety checklist is a great start.

Apart from a safe pool fence, constant, active adult supervision is still required when children are around the pool. For more key strategies, the Royal Life Saving Society's Keep Watch program aims to prevent drowning deaths of children under five.

Cost

Panels range in price from about $85 to $160 for a 1.2 x 2.4m aluminium or steel panel or $90+ for a 1.2 x 1.2m glass panel (not including installation). You'll need other components too. A post or spigot for a glass pool fence panel could cost $100 – and you'll need two to prop up each panel.