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As the weather warms up many of us start thinking about taking a refreshing dip in our backyard pools but we all need to be aware of potential hazards and relevant laws to keep children safe around the water all year round.
The recently released 2017 Western Australian Ombudsman’s report, titled “Investigation into ways to prevent or reduce deaths of children by drowning”, showed that private swimming pools were the most common location of fatal and non-fatal drowning incidents in the State.
According to the report, during a six-year period 34 children died by accidental drowning, while 258 children were admitted to hospital and 2,310 children attended an emergency department in respect of non-fatal drowning incidents.
In WA, there are specific laws that mandate the installation of fencing to enclose private swimming pools and spas. Swimming pools or spas that contain water deeper than 300 mm must be secured by isolation fencing with the correct locking mechanisms on gates.
The fencing requirements are intended to protect young children by restricting their access to the pool or spa area. Most fatal drowning incidents in private swimming pools occur where there is no barrier, or there is a faulty barrier, between the residence and the pool.
Many accidents have occurred after gates were left propped open or objects that could be climbed on were left near the fence, so everyone with a pool or spa should check that these hazards don’t exist in addition to ensuring pool fencing is well maintained.
While owners and occupiers are both responsible for ensuring that any fence or barrier is maintained and operating effectively, in rental properties it is ultimately the owner’s responsibility to ensure that the barriers provided are adequate.
Local Government authorities are responsible for inspecting pools and can provide advice about whether a pool area complies with requirements.
Portable pools now pose an even more serious drowning risk. A range of easy to use full size pools have now come into the market at very affordable prices. These products present a temptation to the community to buy a product that is quite cheap. Realistically they are too large to empty each time they are used and yet to adequately fence the pool it would run to many hundreds of dollars and require council approval. We need to think about these risks, it only takes seconds for a child to drown even in a small pool with very little water. So while you might think this is a good way to amuse the kids during the summer holidays you also need to think about the consequences.
And educating our children about water safety is also important – teach kids safety rules around water including that they should never swim without an adult present.
Our website at www.consumerprotection.wa.gov.au includes pool and product safety information which is also covered in our Home Safety for Baby video and accompanying takeaway tips checklist on YouTube. This checklist can be used when travelling to help to identify potential hazards at your holiday accommodation such as ensuring that hire cots comply with current mandatory standards, that there are no strangulation risks from curtain and blind cords and that potentially hazardous furniture such as televisions have been secured to prevent toppling.
Further information, including pool fencing safety advice for rental property owners and managers, is available on our website at www.consumerprotection.wa.gov.au, or by calling 1300 30 40 54 or emailing email@example.com. Detailed water safety guidelines are also available from the Royal Life Saving Society WA at www.royallifesavingwa.com.au.