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Clinicians warn proposed pool fence law will increase toddler drowning

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The Paediatric Society and Starship Child Health warn that the Building (pools) Amendment Bill now open for submissions, will result in an increase in preventable toddler drowning.  "We have huge concerns about this proposed law" said Dr Mike Shepherd, Paediatric Society spokesperson and Director of Child Health at Starship Hospital today. "The approach of the Bill is to prioritise compliance costs over the safety of children. More children will die as a result."

Pool fences are absolutely proven to save children's lives. Yet this Bill removes the need to use a fence to keep homes safe for toddlers; reduces the number of swimming pool inspections for New Zealand's pools; includes untested rules; and has a consent process that is unclear, potentially expensive and confusing for home owners.

Dr Shepherd says that here is science to pool fencing, with excellent evidence showing that a fenced pool with a self-closing, self-latching gate saves lives. "Rivers, lakes and beaches are public, open spaces are where people know they need to supervise their children. Small children have tragically drowned in public spaces, but overall, people know to look out for children in these places. Home swimming pools are different. Home pools are deep water in a young child?s home that they can simply fall into. This happens more quickly and quietly than families realise, until it happens", he said.

Experience and studies around the world show that telling people to supervise their children in their home does not stop small children drowning in home swimming pools. "Anyone who has looked after a toddler at home knows it is impossible to know where they are all the time. Toddler drowning is fast and silent," said Dr Shepherd. "If there is a home swimming pool in the garden of a house, the only way to be sure that children will be safe, is if the pool has a fence around it with a closed latched gate".

The Fencing of Swimming Pool Act 1987 has been an extremely successful law. Before this Act was passed in 1987, on average ten children a year died in swimming pools around homes and many more sustained long term brain damage from drowning. This is now is down to as few as just two or three small children tragically drowning in home swimming pools in New Zealand each year, despite a significant increase in home pools. While even this number of small children drowning is a tragedy, the proposed Building (pools) Amendment Bill will increase the number of toddler drownings.

"The Paediatric Society is looking forward to making a submission and with other submitters assisting the Local Government and Environment Select Committee provide the best possible recommendations for improvement. Hopefully, the substantial problems with this Bill can be overcome," said Dr Shepherd.

Concerns about the Bill:

  • Reduced frequency of inspection will leave gates and fences at higher risk of failing to prevent drowning.
  • It does not specify scientifically proven best practice for pool fences to prevent drowning.
  • Spa pools are made less safe by allowing covers instead of fences and not requiring inspections.
  • The Bill will allow alternative solutions based on performance without a scientific basis for this approach.

For more details contact:

Dr Mike Shepherd

Paediatric Emergency Specialist

Director of Child Health Starship Hospital

Paediatric Society of New Zealand Injury Spokesman:  021 938 437

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