Whangarei District Council is taking on extra staff to inspect hundreds of swimming pools after a random audit found 10 of 11 pools checked did not meet safety standards.
There are about 1500 private swimming pools registered with the council and most are likely to be checked after "generous use of discretion" may have led to pools breaching safety standards.
Council CEO Rob Forlong said the council was contacted by a pool owner early in March seeking code compliance for their property before it went on the market.
"During our inspection we discovered the property's pool fence, approved several years ago, was not compliant and that it would be possible for youngsters to get through it and into the pool area," Forlong said.
Concern that this may be the case on other properties prompted council to randomly audit a further 11 pools which had been approved in the past. They found 10 of them were not compliant.
The council has contracted out its pool inspection work for several years and Forlong said the inspection problems may have pre-dated that.
''We haven't 100 per cent got to the bottom [of how the situation happened] but I suspect we may have been a little generous with exercising our discretion. We don't want to point fingers at anybody and it's what we call a systems error,'' Forlong said.
''There is not a lot of discretion that can be exercised, just little things like how close a tree or building is.''
The council has a system where pools are inspected every three years.
''Our problem is that pools may become non-compliant in between times, and we suspect some may have been given discretionary approval incorrectly. Those whose pools are due for inspection [were last inspected three years ago] will be charged their usual pool inspection fee. Those who have been inspected within the past three years will not,'' Forlong said.
''Where remedial action is necessary there will be the usual charges for inspections to check compliance.''
There had been an error in applying the rules set out in the Building Act, and the council would investigate that, he said.
"Do not rely on the fact that you have a certificate for your fence, you must still check," Forlong said.
"Pool owners have a legal responsibility to ensure their pools meet the requirements of the Building Act, regardless of when they were last inspected and approved.
"Fencing rules are entirely about preventing drownings, so we want people to take nothing for granted about their pool fence."
Forlong recommended pool owners looked for places where vegetation may have grown up and also changes to buildings on the property and the properties next door.
Ground level changes, excavation, garden beds, new plantings or sheds or general wear and tear may have made it easier for children to get through or over the fence, he said.
"It is autumn, and many people will not be using their pools at the moment, but they will still be full of water and we all know water is very enticing to children.
"Anyone who has any concerns about their fence is welcome to contact us for advice, and we will be contacting all pool owners on our database."
Pool owner's obligations
It is the pool owner or operator's obligation to comply with the legal requirements to have a physical barrier around the pool.
Pool owners and operators must advise council that they have a pool on their property or are going to construct one – this includes spa pools and hot tubs.
You need a building consent before constructing any type of pool or building or altering a fence around a pool. If a pool does not have the appropriate physical barrier to the standard as required by the legislation you must keep it empty.
An empty pool that could allow a fall of 1m or greater (to the bottom of the pool) must have barriers erected to ensure safety from falling, in order to comply with the Building Act.
More information about pool fencing rules and responsibilities is available on council's website and Facebook page. People can call council on 09 430 4200 for advice.