Does Having A Pool Fence Mean The Pool Is Safe?

pool safety

Having a pool in Queensland is fairly common with 17.9% or almost 1 in 5 households having either an in-ground or above ground pool (according to the 2007 ABS stats). This means that even if you don’t have a pool, you know someone that does.

This fact sheet is in response to yet another death of a toddler, in Australia, in a body of water. In less than 30 days between Dec 2016 and Jan 2017 in Australia, 17 lives have been lost due to drowning. Sadly many of these drownings have involved young children in swimming pools.

The news articles that have followed have been met with disbelief, grief and questions. Some of the articles suggested the integrity of the fencing would be looked at, some went as far as to mention child protective services which must be horrific for both the parents and the pool owners (should they be different). As a parent, as a pool owner, I think there is a lot of misinformation about what makes a safe pool and despite the media emphasis on pool fencing integrity, what determines a safe pool.

What makes a safe pool?

Nothing. Zero. There is no such thing as a safe pool or safe pooling of water of any kind where babies and children are concerned. Kids can and have drowned in 10cms of water, so anything you have that is deeper than that is potentially a life risk. Can you reduce the risk so it is almost negligible? sure! but as a pool owner, there isn’t a part of me that doesn’t believe it still isn’t possible.

How do you make a pool safer?

This is the key….. making your pool safer. This is all you can do. You CAN make it safer, but you can’t make it child proof, not really, not absolutely. Why?

  • Kids can drag chairs to fences
  • Kids can figure stuff out
  • Kids can find neighbours pools where neighbours aren’t as diligent
  • Kids will wait until parents are distracted
  • Kids drown in bath tubs
  • Kids will find that very moment when you will think it so impossible, but they do
  • etc. etc. etc.

What are the pool fencing laws?

The pool fencing laws apply to any pool (portable or spa) that can be filled with more than 300mm of water. Even so, children have drowned in far less and so if you use a pool that does not require the fencing, then you do so at great risk and should ensure maximum supervision and emptying of the pool upon completion of play. Disclaimer: read more to be certain on the laws regarding portable and spa pools here.

We asked local company Family First Pool Safety back in November 2015 for the ideal action to be taken when it comes to making pools safer and compliant and this is what they said.

  • Pool gates must NOT be propped open by any object, it sounds obvious but it still happens. There is a party on, people in and out of the pool, it seems convenient but it is a tragedy waiting to happen.
  • Make sure your pool gate/gates work properly. Just like us your gates age over time due to wear and tear.
  • Refer to the Brisbane City Council Website for more in regards to the specifics of pool fencing– especially regarding distance of any trees or walls or anything that can be used by children to gain entry to pools.

Pool gates should

  • Close from any position without being pushed or forced closed. In other words, you should just be able to let it swing closed on its own and it should secure properly.
  • Stay closed when pulled.
  • Gates must open outwards and not into the pool area.
  • Your CPR sign should be clearly visible from anywhere in your pool area and if it has aged or faded you need to change it.
  • If you think the laws just apply to big inground swimming pools then think again; anything that is capable of holding more than 300mm/30cm of water needs to also comply…yes, that means some of those baby paddling pools need to comply! (and note: even if the pool manages to scrape past the laws, it doesn’t make safe).

Other ways to keep your babies safe near pools

  • Don’t assume a fence is 100%. Children have and will climb fences. It is the first place I check if I can’t locate my kids and that is because I always know there is always a remote opportunity for them to drag a chair from 50 metres away or find another way to scale that fence- I still treat it with respect and caution.
  • You still need to watch the kids that can swim. Kids that can swim are in a different type of danger. Their poor decision making, and their developing spacial and gross motor skills mean they make poor diving decisions or are more likely to move underwater and unwittingly hit their heads. Just a few seconds unconscious underwater is all it can take, so don’t assume a child who can swim is safe either.
  • Teach your kids to swim. It is expensive, but it is an activity that really should take precedence over any other sport or creative program. Kids get so many toys for Christmas, instead get them the gift of swimming lessons or ask for relatives to chip in. 1 in 5 Queensland homes have a pool, Queensland is a tropical climate, swimming is an essential skill, more so than riding a bike.
  • Watch for secondary drowning. It happens when a child is underwater (you may or may not have noticed) and inhales some water, seems ok, but drowns later. You can read more about it here– it’s scary and it happens. It is far more common than understood and every parent should be aware of the warning signs.
  • Lots of kids equal lots of distractions. When you have lots of children in the pool be mindful that kids can turn into a blur of activity and one child can be lost in the flurry. It happens.
  • Be mindful of where you visit- holidays, neighbours, friends’ homes. Be extra cautious in places you don’t control over.
  • Remember drowning is silent and you aren’t likely to hear anything.


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