Home swimming pools may have to be inspected every four years under new proposals in a report to combat the high level of non-compliance for backyard pool barriers which has just been submitted to the government.
The report could supercede legislation due to come into effect from April 29, that says pool owners need to have a current swimming pool compliance certificate to sell or lease their property. Non-compliance could result in a penalty up to $5500.
The report also says that any pool drowning should be followed up by a council inspection of the pool as happens in Queensland.
Its author, former Secretary of NSW Treasury Michael Lambert said that the new proposal would emulate the system operating in Western Australia since 1992 where councils must inspect backyard pools every four years.
The Lambert report also contains proposals to tidy up a “patchwork” of legislation which means different rules apply depending on when your pool was built, the size of block it is on or even if it is located at a waterfront location. All those exemptions should be removed over a phased period, it says.
Mr Lambert said he recommended that the April 29 legislation, although not sufficient, should proceed and there should be clarification of the standards because of interpretation problems associated with them.
“I did recommend that where a new drowning occurs and is brought to the attention of a hospital or an ambulance service that it is immediately centrally recorded and the council does a follow up inspection of that pool,” he said.
“I recommended that we move to a single standard and phase that in for every pool and that all exemptions be removed at the time we move to a single standard.
“The idea of simply checking at the time that a house is sold is better than not checking at all but the trouble is on average houses are turned over every seven to 10 years and often not for every 20 or 30 years so there are no inspections done. If four-yearly inspections are found to be cost effective, and I think they would be, I think that would be a more sensible regime.”
Mr Lambert said the non-compliance rate in WA was initially 80-90 per cent but had dropped to 10-20 per cent. Feedback from councils in NSW suggested 90-95 per cent of pools were non-compliant.
Figures released by Royal Life Saving Society last Thursday show 59 people drowned across Australia in all types of water since the start of December, a 16 per cent rise on the same period last year. With 10 of these drowning deaths occurring on public holidays the society urged Australians to be safe around water on Australia Day.
There were a further 66 non-fatal near-drownings across the country. Fourteen were children under the age of 10, with children under five in home swimming pools accounting for over half (57 per cent) of reported non-fatal child incidents.
A spokesman for the Minister for Local Government, Paul Toole said that the requirement for a swimming pool barrier had been in place since 1993 and that since then there had been a noticeable drop in swimming pool drownings of young children.
“The government commissioned the report from Mr Lambert to ensure that the regulatory framework for swimming pools is as effective as it could be in saving young lives,” he said.
“In his report Mr Lambert undertook a comprehensive review of pool safety and in response has made a variety of recommendations, all of which are being considered.
“The government wants to make it easier for pool owners to comply, not more difficult. By making compliance easier, the government can work with councils and pool owners to make pools safer and save lives.”
Michael Ilinsky, the NSW operations manager for the Royal Life Saving Society said the WA system allowed councils to plan an inspection regime and provide greater opportunities for pre-inspection, education and awareness.
“It also allows for councils to ensure appropriate human resources to complete inspections across the planned timeframe,” he said.