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Swimming Pool Laws - Who needs a nanny state?

All hail Miranda Devine and her rallying forces against the nanny state........ after all who needs a nanny state.... not me....and I'm sure not you!

So how dare a government attempt to protect a vulnerable section of our community like 0-5 year olds, especially by reviewing laws which Miranda acknowledges as good..."many lives have been saved and injuries prevented by good laws - the original Swimming Pool Act requiring pools be fenced was one and compulsory seatbelts and random breath tests were two more."

In her article "Nanny State helps drown us in our own stupidity" (Sydney Morning Herald 21 October 2009) Miranda claims that the proposed changes to the Swimming Pools Act are as a result of a spate of child drownings last year. Sorry Miranda, even a rudimentary amount of research would have revealed that that the review process was underway prior to last "summers spate of drownings". In fact the review of the Swimming Pools regulation was completed prior to last summers spate of drownings, and the legislative review was already flagged at that point.

Research would also have revealed that there was a reduction in the overall number of toddler drowning across Australia last year, but this was not the case in NSW, where there was an increase, it would also have revealed that the numbers have been trending upwards across Australia over the past few years.

The original Pool Fencing Laws, which it is acknowledged have saved lives, were full of loopholes about which pools did or did not need to be fenced, and contained miserable enforcement provisions.

Why is a pool constructed before 1990 any less of a hazard than a pool constructed after 1990, why is a pool on a small block of land any less of a hazard than a pool on an sized block of land?" The simple answer is that there is NO difference in the hazard regardless of where the domestic swimming pool is located.

While the proposed laws will remove a raft of exemptions, they will apparently leave the problem of pools constructed prior to 1990 still not requiring fencing, thus a large segment of NSW pool stocks will still be exempt from laws which are acknowledged as good and beneficial.

If the existing laws were as effective as Miranda would like to believe then the number of child related drowning or near drownings would be going down [why....because the number of swimming pools increases and most of the new pools are required to be fenced], This is simply not the case.

Miranda claims that "every time there is a terrible accident involving a child, there are calls for fences around dams, wharves and matter how impractical or futile."

It should be noted that at no stage has any reputable organisation involved in drowning prevention like Royal Life Saving, Kidsafe, Childrens Hospitals or indeed the Samuel Morris Foundation called for such measures. It is a sad reality that of all the toddler drowning deaths sixty percent of them occur in backyard swimming pools.

It should also be remembered that the whole purpose of the Swimming Pools Act, and the Australian Standard for Pool Fencing which it refers to is to prevent the drowning of children aged 0-5.

Miranda states that "No matter that almost all child drownings in backyard pools are the result of inadequate adult supervision, it's the fences that are the focus of government energies. " Maybe that is because there is empirical research evidence to demonstrate that four sided isolation pool fencing, combined with other identified strategies are effective methods to reduce toddler drowning deaths, and there is research evidence (and coronial findings) that in many of these cases the pool fence or gate has failed to provide the barrier that it is installed to provide.

Miranda also states that "It's just too hard to tell parents the bleeding obvious, which is that if their children are near a large body of water, fence or no fence, then there is no alternative but to watch them like a hawk; and it's not a task that can be outsourced or shared. Children will always find ways of getting around fences and no barrier is a substitute for human vigilance.",

All those involved in the drowning prevention area constantly put out the message that there is NO substitute for adult supervision, and call on parents to be vigilant when their children are in, near, on or around water sources, in fact parental supervision is THE core prevention message of all drowning prevention organisations(it is just hard to get media coverage for this message!).

I'm so glad that none of Miranda's readers who are parents and who have commented on her article are like "those parents" who are irresponsible enough to LET their child drown or be left permanently disabled by a near drowning. I admire those parent who commented on Miranda's article like "100% hands on mum" with their absolute resolve to keep their eyes on their children 24 hrs a day, I'm sure their child has NEVER been out of their site for the short amount of time it can take a child to drown, SILENTLY! I truly hope that nothing ever happens to their children, because it would be horrible to find themselves living in a glass house, after throwing stones!

Coincidentally I should declare an interest because as a parent I am allegedly one of "those parents" because my child is permanently disabled as a result of a near drowning. My wife and I will never get over the "what if" questions.

The reality is we are and were responsible parents who did watch our children as much as humanly possible, but it still happened to us, because of a fence that was faulty and was allowed to be faulty by a flawed system of laws and their enforcement, via a council who never completed the final inspection of the pool as required by a development consent, and by conveyancers, lawyers and real estate agents who never pointed out that the pool DA had never been finalised! But this does not diminish the "what if" questions for us as parents.

Pool fences are meant to be a last option in the hierarchy of prevention measures against toddler drowning, with adult supervision being number one, barriers preventing access to the water, teaching the children to swim and learning CPR following.

I do not know any parent who can honestly say that their children NEVER escape their supervision event momentarily, when a child does slip away, the pool fence is supposed to prevent them getting into the pool area and provide the additional time (which may only amount to seconds) for you to find them without allowing them to get into the pool.

To have pools that are not required to be fenced, pool fences that are not required to be maintained and inspected, fences with gaps that are too big which allow a child to climb under or through them, to have fences with things around them that can be used as makeshift ladders, or having pool gates propped open is the equivalent of having no fence.

Every year drivers in NSW are required to obtain a "pink slip" for their car to demonstrate it is roadworthy, and therefore does not represent a threat to others. Surely Miranda and her supporters would claim that this is aslo a nanny state response and if there is a law that says your vehicle has to be roadworthy then every responsible car owner would make sure they maintained their car to the roadworthy standard, and the government should not tell us we need to have our car inspected regularly to ensure it IS actually safe to operate.

Regular inspections of pool fencing and the regular periodic obtaining of a similar "slip" which would ensure that the pool fence was maintained in accordance with the standard, which I support, have been been called for by the NSW coroner, however this has been ruled out by the NSW Government. So effectively the proposed law, while appearing to make improvements, says you should have and maintain a fence but we won't check on it or enforce it (unless someone complains to council about it)

It could be argued that part of the reason that drowning numbers are trending upwards is because those fences that have been required to be installed have not adequately maintained or inspected, thus diminishing the effectiveness of them as a protective measure against toddler drowning.

For article commentator "Daphon" I was the person you listened to on the radio as allegedly "the man whose foundation is responsible for these new laws". I wish I had this level of influence, clearly I do not, otherwise the regular inspections that I support would be part of the proposed changes by the NSW Government. Changes come about by the actions of many organisations, some of which have been named above.

Contrary to your assertion Daphon I do not want an Orwellian vision of cctv monitoring every pool. I simply want the laws to do what they were designed to do. The Swimming Pools Act was designed to help prevent toddlers drowning. The evidence clearly demonstrates it is failing to do so, and therefore needs to be reviewed. The weakness in the existing law has been exemptions and the failure to provide for compliance checks, I simply seek to have enforcement provisions included in the law.

What do you think?............ leave your comments below.