The Fencing of Swimming Pools Act 1987 was introduced to help keep children safe around swimming pools.
Below are some frequently asked questions regarding the fencing of swimming pools.
Why do I have to fence my swimming pool?
A private swimming pool is a significant asset for the home. But it can also be a deadly danger for small children. Sadly, a significant number of toddlers drown in private swimming and spa pools. The natural attraction water has for small children and the existence of private pools is a dangerous combination.
Ask anyone with practical experience of minding children. They will tell you that it is impossible constantly to supervise small children. Even the most careful parent may become distracted for two or three minutes. That is enough time for a small child to get to, and fall into, an unfenced or unsecured pool. Even if a toddler is saved from drowning, the outcome is not always a happy one. If a child's brain is deprived of oxygen for only a few minutes, it can suffer moderate to severe damage.
What is the Act about?
The Fencing of Swimming Pools Act exists to protect young children from the dangers of unfenced swimming pools and spa pools. It does this by requiring owners to fence their pools.
Who does the Act apply to?
Pool owners, and people, including tenants, with pools on their property, all have duties under the Act.
Pool owners must tell the Council if they have a pool or are intending to get or build a pool. A building consent is required before constructing any type of pool or altering a fence around a pool. All pools must be fenced to the standard set out in the Act. If a pool is not fenced to this standard, the owner must ensure that the pool is kept empty.
Everybody renting or leasing a house with a pool must ensure the pool is empty if it does not have a fence that complies with the Act.
The Council is required to take all reasonable steps to make sure that the Act is complied with.
What pools need to be fenced?
All private pools and spa pools have to be fenced unless:
- the maximum depth is 400 mm or less; or
- the walls of the pool (or the pool's surrounds) are 1.2 metres or more above the ground. This means no permanent means of access such as steps are allowed and temporary steps must be removed after being used; or
- the pool is indoors
Where must the fence be built?
The fence may only surround the pool and the area immediately around the pool. This area can only include things used in association with the pool, for example a sunbathing deck or a changing shed. It may not include a clothes line, barbecue or vegetable garden. A secure boundary fence is not, by itself, sufficient. However, subject to strict conditions, part of a boundary fence may be used as a part of a pool fence.
If a boundary fence is made use of, there is a danger that a neighbour may unwittingly make the fence unsafe. For example, the neighbour may stack timber against the fence so that it becomes easy for a child to climb over into the pool area.
What about an existing pool?
Pools built prior to the Act coming into force were often subject to a bylaw that required only that the property itself be adequately fenced. This reflected the view at that time that the greatest danger arose through children straying onto a property. This happens, but later research in New Zealand and overseas has shown that the majority of accidents happen to the children of pool owners or of their legitimate visitors. Therefore, the Act requires that all pools must be fenced to the standard set by it.
Can a building form part of a fence?
Buildings can form part of a fence but have to meet certain requirements in the Act.
Can pool owners be exempted from the Act?
Pool owners can apply to the Council for an exemption from the Act. The Council, in granting an exemption, would specify the conditions that the pool or the property must meet. The Council can only grant an exemption or a special condition if this would not significantly increase danger to young children.
What standard of fencing is required?
Pool fences must meet the standard required by the Act. This requires existing pools to be fenced to the specifications of the schedule to the Act. A new fence, or alterations to an existing fence, must meet the performance standard of the Building Code. Ask the Council’s building control officers for information about the criteria that your fence must conform to.
The schedule of the Act set out specifications that, if followed, will automatically ensure that a swimming pool or spa pool fence meets the performance standard of the Building Code.
- fence height at least 1.2 metres
- ground clearance no more than 100 mm
- gates open outwards – away from the pool
- gates automatically shut
- gate latches are self locking
- ranch-sliders that have pool access must have locking bolts out of the reach of small children
- steps for Para-type or spa pools are removable
What happens if I use an unfenced pool?
Any person who uses an unfenced pool commits an offence under the Act, and is liable to a fine. Criminal proceedings were recently taken against the tenants of a property with an unfenced pool in which a small child drowned. Both tenants were convicted and were required to pay substantial fines.
Other safety tips
- Keep the fence and gate in good order.
- Always make sure the pool gate is safely shut.
- Make sure other parents and adults know that they must NEVER prop open the gate.
- Never have objects near the pool fence that can be used by children to climb/stand on.
- Know what to do in a pool emergency – learn first aid and resuscitation.
- Have a non-slip surface around the pool.
- Never leave children unattended in or around the pool.
- Clear away floatation aids and toys when they are not being used.
Need further information?
The Council’s building control officers can provide you with any additional information you need. To email them, click here or call (03)440 0615.