Pools – Safety

Almost 300 children under five have drowned in the past nine years, many losing their lives in swimming pools. As strata living becomes more attractive to families how can you make sure no child drowns in your strata's pool?

Maintaining the myriad of facilities which now are common in strata properties can be a headache, none more so than a swimming pool. The most obvious maintenance issues in pools. Identifying risks

In most strata properties are usually the ones that are least likely to pose a significant safety risk; you're most likely to be hearing from residents about things like keeping the pool clear of leaves and making sure none of the residents break the pump when they are playing with the controls.

But when was the last time anyone really looked at the pool fence? Or checked whether the latch still works? If you were on site would you know what you should be looking for to make sure your strata pool was safe for small children whether they're residents or visitors the property?

Strata pools have specific risks just because of the potential numbers of children who can access them. Some of the risks are obvious: a gate propped open or palings missing from a fence are easy to see. But you have to test the gate to see if the gate is self-closing and self-latching first time, every time. If you put a bit of weight on the bottom rung of the gate, does it give way? Are any of the palings or posts in the fence loose, or are the screws getting rusty?

If you aren't sure where to start, The Royal Life Saving Society Australia offers a free Home Pool Safety checklist at www.homepoolsafety.com.au.

Pool Fencing

In all States and Territories, strata pools are required to meet the requirements set down in their State or Territory legislation for home pools. Typically home pool fencing legislation comes under the Department of Local Government.

Currently, there are some significant variations in the different jurisdictions. Strata has the ability through the introduction of bylaws to make sure that the pools in their properties meet that best practice standard regardless of where they are located.

The first thing to do is to make sure the pool fence is compliant with the updated Australian Standard 1926. You should get the pool area audited at least every two years to make sure it is compliant. Your local Royal Life Saving branch does these audits regularly. Commercial companies also provide this service. This is important because the legislation was introduced more than 10 years age and, with the exception of Western Australia where it was compulsory, it's unlikely the fence has been checked for compliance since then.

Children have drowned because they were able to get through a faulty segment of the fence that wasn't obvious on first glance. Check the pool has an easily visible and legible CPR chart. The Australian Resuscitation Council updated the CPR Chart in early 2011. A quick way of checking whether the sign is up-to-date is to look for the "S" step - send for help. If it isn't there, the sign needs replacing.

Make sure whoever provides gardening services, keeps any plants near the pool fence cut back. Children will use plants as a toe-hold to get over the fence.

Get the members of the strata scheme who are onsite to keep an eye on the area around the pool. Has anyone dragged over a wheelie bin, a BBQ, outdoor furniture? Again children are resourceful and items that are easy to move can be used to help them climb over the fence.

Keeping a central register of which properties have pools and when they were last subject to a safety audit is a good way of keeping track.

Keep Watch Messages

Ultimately strata managers can't be onsite at every property all the time. Residents need to be empowered to protect their own families. Strata managers can help them by putting safety notices up in common areas. Include in those notices the four key Keep Watch messages:

  1. Active supervision – When around the pool keep young children within arms reach at all times, don't just watch from a distance.
  2. Restrict access to danger areas – Don’t prop the pool gate open.
  3. Water awareness – Teach children basic water familiarisation; and
  4. Know how to resuscitate if necessary. Encourage residents to do a CPR or First Aid course. Royal Life Saving can assist with all aspects of pool safety.

Renters with children should ask the real estate agent or landlord for a recent certificate of compliance for the swimming pool before signing a rental agreement.

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