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Company News >> Legislation loophole allows pool owners to take cover and ditch the fence
 A loophole in the building legislation is allowing pool owners to take "shortcuts in pool safety", with one region making the most of the lesser-known clause. 

Since a law change in January last year, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has been notified of 25 waivers, or modifications, to ditch pool fences in favour of covers.

Twenty-three of those waivers have come from the Marlborough District Council.

Swimming pool owner Warren Cairns, of Blenheim, says electric pool covers might actually be safer than fences.
RICKY WILSON/STUFF
Swimming pool owner Warren Cairns, of Blenheim, says electric pool covers might actually be safer than fences.

The Building Act requires territorial authorities to inspect pool fences, but also allows regions to waive or modify building code requirements, including restricting access to pools.

 

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A ministry spokesman said waivers allowed territorial authorities to "exercise judgement" when dealing with "unusual building compliance situations".

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Pool fences are the only acceptable way of keeping children safe around pools, says Water Safety NZ.
SUPPLIED
Pool fences are the only acceptable way of keeping children safe around pools, says Water Safety NZ.

The other two notifications received by the ministry were from Christchurch City Council and Thames-Coromandel District Council.

A Marlborough District Council spokesperson said it had sought clarification from the ministry over using electric safety covers on pools instead of fences under the new legislation. 

"We've had no signal or advice from MBIE to suggest that it (the modification) is not OK," the spokesperson said.

Since the law change, there have been 25 waivers to ditch pool fences for covers - 23 from one region. (File photo)
SUPPLIED
Since the law change, there have been 25 waivers to ditch pool fences for covers - 23 from one region. (File photo)

Pool safety inspectors in Marlborough felt modification was valid, but other local authorities might have interpreted things differently, the council spokesperson said.

But Water Safety NZ questioned the use of covers as barriers on residential pools instead of fences.

Since the new legislation came into effect on January 1 last year, five children under the age of 5 have drowned in "preventable" deaths around home pools, according to Water Safety NZ.

Three of those were in Auckland, and two were in Gisborne. There had been 19 "preventable" deaths around home pools since 2008.

Water Safety NZ chief executive Jonty Mills said the safety body believed fences were the only acceptable form of barrier.

"We do not believe that the act envisages the use of anything other than fences that prevent children from accessing the water. 

"Pool covers are not a proven means of doing this. A child on a pool cover would be in close proximity to the water whereas we believe the best protection is to ensure that children remain a safe distance away from the water. This is the only means of removing drowning risk," Mills said.

Water Safety NZ supported the intention of the Building (Pools) Amendment Act 2016, which was to ensure safety of children around swimming pools.

"Any other barriers such as pool covers have the potential to introduce uncertainty as effective barriers," Mills said.

Local authorities should ensure swimming pools offered maximum protection for children, he said. 

"It would be unacceptable for pool owners to be permitted to take shortcuts in pool safety that may increase the risk of drowning.

"Children can drown in under a minute. Constant active adult supervision is the primary means of ensuring children's safety around pools, but proven fencing that safely separates children from the water is essential," Mills said. 

But Blenheim pool owner Warren Cairns said his electric cover was "extremely safe".

Cairns installed the pool in September 2016, and received a waiver under the old regulation. 

"The fact that it closes very easily means you close it very often and young kids don't have a chance [to fall in] when they're unsupervised. Plus, it can actually be walked on by adults, I've got absolutely no doubt that it's 100 per cent safe," he said.

Cairns, an electrician who regularly worked in wiring pools, said covers might actually be safer than fences. 

"The keypad has to be a minimum of 1.5 metres high, it has a four digit code ... and the open and close feature to make it operate."

The keypad, and PIN number, meant other people's children could not open a gate and get access to your pool, Cairns said.

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