More practical swimming pool fencing law proposed

  • Nick Smith
Building and Housing

A Building (Pools) Amendment Bill introduced into Parliament today to replace the Fencing of Swimming Pools Act 1987 will apply a more consistent and practical approach to protecting children from drowning, Building and Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith says.

“The law on fencing swimming pools needs updating and improving to make it more practical and effective. The current law is excessively prescriptive, with inconsistent and cumbersome requirements that contribute little to children’s safety. These changes will reduce the bureaucracy and compliance costs of the current regime while also saving more lives by ensuring more consistent compliance,” Dr Smith says.

The six key changes are:

Spa pools and hot tubs with child resistant covers will not have to be separately fenced;

  • Five-yearly inspections of pools will be required consistently across the country, whereas currently some councils require three-yearly inspections and others not at all;
  • Requiring retailers and manufacturers to inform buyers of their obligations under the Act when they buy pools to ensure children’s access is restricted;
  • Clarify that garden ponds and stormwater retention ponds do not need to meet the swimming pool fencing requirements, noting differing interpretations currently by councils;
  • Moving to performance-based standards in the Building Code to specify fencing requirements, rather than current duplicate and inconsistent requirements; and
  • Introducing a graduated enforcement regime with infringement notices as the preferred tool for compliance, and court prosecutions only in serious breaches.

“The Fencing of Swimming Pools Act 1987 has been successful in reducing child fatalities in pool accidents, from about 10 per year to three per year, but it has also been a source of frustration for many councils and homeowners. These changes are expected to improve safety by further reducing drownings by six per decade, while also reducing compliance costs by $17 million,” Dr Smith says.

“This Bill is a refinement on proposed changes announced in 2013. It was proposed then to reduce the depth from 400 millimetres to 300 millimetres for triggering fencing requirements, but this has now been dropped. The other change is that rather than requiring inspections of pools at least every five years, the Bill standardises the inspection regime as five-yearly. The change to incorporate fencing requirements for swimming pools into the Building Act is to provide for simpler compliance and better enforcement. We also want a performance-based approach rather than a prescriptive approach to keeping young children safe from pools.

“Swimming pools are great for exercise, family fun and learning to swim. We will never be able to regulate away all the risk and there is no substitute for young children being properly supervised. This revised law provides a more practical approach to swimming pool regulation that will work better for New Zealand,” Dr Smith concluded.