Julie Chambers: Pool law changes will see little lives slip away

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Govt taking away proper pool safeguards.
The proposed law is obviously unsafe to anyone reasonable who reads it. Photo / Babiche Martens
The proposed law is obviously unsafe to anyone reasonable who reads it. Photo / Babiche Martens

The Government is right now in the process of passing the Building (Pools) Amendment Act which will remove the Fencing of Swimming Pools Act, put pool fencing into the building code and dramatically increase the risk of children drowning in home pools and garden ponds. Please take special care of your children when visiting friends' gardens.

The old law was effective for stopping the uninformed and thoughtless from digging deep-water landscape features around their homes. Under the old law, if ponds are deep they need fencing. The new law removes that disincentive.

Garden ponds, with their dark brackish water, will no longer need to be fenced and you will not know how deep it is until something, like a small child, submerges and disappears.

Some are cheering. "Good job," they say. "It's about time officious swimming pool inspectors were dealt to." "Make the law simpler," they chime.

A simple pool fence to-do list in the old act was easy to follow. Changing pool fencing to be within the building code will permit a morass of duplicated "alternative and acceptable solutions", paperwork and waivers from local councils all over the country. To add to the confusion, at the last minute, "independent verifiers" have also been thrown into the mix.

The proposed law is obviously unsafe to anyone reasonable who reads it. Busy families never will, once it is law.

The proposed law says automatic sliding doors are safe to use as a barrier between a house and pool. There is no evidence for this. One automatic sliding door salesman told the select committee no children have yet drowned in the homes of the few that have been allowed to be installed. Seemingly on that alone, automatic sliding doors are set to become a standard pool safety feature.

The proposed law says a door alarm is enough to prevent toddlers drowning. Architects, the Pool Builders Guild and fencing industry representatives all sat together in the pool fencing standards committee and agreed door alarms are not safe. Nobody credible would have put on record that they thought a door alarm was enough to stop a toddler from walking through an open door, falling into a home swimming pool and drowning, until this Government put it into this law.

The minister has said, "In my opinion, spa pools don't need fencing." This Government says children don't drown in spa pools, and spa pool lids are enough, so they don't need to be fenced. Spa pool and hot tub manufacturers cheer. Family tragedy after tragedy means nothing; it is as though they never happened.

An overwhelming majority of submitters warned and pleaded to the select committee that the draft law is unwanted and unsafe. Three district health boards, the Plunket Society, Water Safety New Zealand, professors of medicine, nurses, doctors, private pool owners and grieving parents brought their experiences, research and data. All took the time to plead with the Government not to pass this law. But this Government is saying it knows better.

We all know that automatic doors can be disconnected and propped open and door alarms can be turned off, fail or are never turned on. When a child walks from the inside of their home through one of those doors and drops, silently drowning into a home swimming pool, then will this Government acknowledge it was because they wrote in law, without evidence, that these are the safety measures families must have in order to prevent children drowning in home swimming pools?

There will always be a parent to blame instead, of course.

Julie Chambers works in child health and is a student in public policy at Waikato University.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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