New laws in NSW covering backyard swimming pools are intended to increase safety, but property law specialists warn they open the gate to potential dangers for legal liability.
Under the new rules all pool owners have to register their backyard swimming pools in an online register provided by the NSW Government at www.swimmingpoolregister.nsw.gov.au.
Registration is free. All owners have to register their pool online by 29 October 2013. Owners have to supply the address of the pool, type of pool and its age. It includes indoor pools, spas, portable pools, inflatable pools, and various sizes of outdoor pools.
Owners are then required to fill out a checklist of safety measures, some of which are very detailed and technical requiring accurate measuring of things such as latches, doors, gates, windows and locks.
There's no doubt at all that everything should be done to make pools as safe as possible. Around six children a year die each year in pool accidents. Dozens more suffer permanent brain injuries and disability from near drownings. It can take just seconds for kids and toddlers to work their way through inadequate or faulty fencing or gates.
To help owners register their pool, the government is allowing owners to self-assess their safety installations such as fences, gates, locks and child-proof access.
However Merrill Phillips, a property specialist at Stacks/The Law Firm, says there are concerns owners could be held liable if the compliance is not up to the standard of the local council.
"Giving pool owners the opportunity to 'self-asses' whether their pool complies with applicable safety standards opens a can of worms. What pool owner is going to openly admit their pool does not comply?"
Owners who don't register their pool can be fined $220, but there is no mention of a penalty if they wrongly self-assess the pool.
"My advice is to get an initial inspection and compliance certificate from your council and then self-assess so long as the standard remains the same," she said.
Council inspections can cost up to $150, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
"There is always a legal liability for owners of swimming pools to ensure that the users are safe at all times when using their pool."
But she warns the risk for owners is that if there is an accident the authorities will thoroughly inspect the pool and surrounding areas for the slightest non-compliance.
"Self-assessing will not protect owners if there is a non-compliance issue in safety provisions."
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