Swimming pools, spas and their safety barriers
The VBA has created a swimming pools, spas and their safety barriers checklist to advise home-owners of their obligations, before, during and after construction.
In Victoria, the design, construction and installation of swimming pools, spas and their safety barriers are subject to strict building requirements under the Building Regulations 2006 (the Regulations). The Regulations also contain ongoing legal obligations for pool and spa owners to maintain their safety barriers at all times.
Compliance with the Regulations improves safety outcomes. Non-compliance, for any reason, can increase the risk of drowning and lead to prosecution by the VBA or local councils. Any home-owner who engages in building a pool or spa and associated safety barriers must familiarise themselves with the Regulations.
The VBA has a role in creating greater awareness of the Regulations and the need for compliance. This includes providing information on the safe installation of swimming pools, spas and their associated barriers.
Swimming pools and spas in Victoria must comply with the following requirements:
- All swimming pools and spas with a depth of more than 300mm (30cm) must have a safety fence or barrier that meets the Australian Standard. This also applies to inflatable or relocatable pools and spas.
- A swimming pool or spa and associated safety barriers can be constructed by a registered builder or by an owner-builder who has obtained a certificate of consent from the Building Practitioners Board.
- A registered builder must be engaged under a written domestic building contract to carry out building work in excess of $5000 (including labour and materials) and an owner-builder must obtain a certificate of consent for work in excess of $12,000.
- A building permit, issued by a registered building surveyor, must be obtained to construct a pool or spa, as well as the associated safety barriers. You can apply for a building permit through your local council's municipal building surveyor, or to a private building surveyor.
- During construction, a temporary safety barrier must be in place and maintained to ensure it is in proper working order. Talk to your registered builder to agree on who will be installing and maintaining the temporary barrier, and later the permanent barrier, and ensure this is written into the contract.
- All outdoor swimming pools and spas built since 1 May 2010 must not have direct access to the pool area via a door from a building, such as a house or a garage.
- Swimming pool gates must be self-latching and self-closing, and should never be propped open. It is illegal to do this.
- Safety barriers must not be installed near trees, barbeques or other structures that children can use to climb up and over to access the swimming pool or spa. Any objects that children might use to climb into the swimming pool or spa area, such as pot plants and chairs must be moved away from the barrier.
Once the pool or spa is built, it should not be used until a permanent safety barrier is installed and a certificate of final inspection is obtained from the relevant building surveyor.
Permanent safety barriers
Permanent safety barriers are required for in-ground swimming pools and spas, indoor swimming pools and spas, above-ground pools and spas, including inflatable and relocatable pools, hot tubs and jacuzzis capable of holding more than 300mm (30cm) of water. This is to restrict access to the pool and surrounding area by young children.
Safety barriers are not required for structures not used principally for swimming, paddling or wading, including bird baths, fish ponds, fountains, water supply/storage tanks and dams. They are also not required for swimming pools or spas not capable of containing a depth of water greater than 300mm (30cm).
Australian Standard (AS) 1926.1 outlines the requirements for the design and construction of a safety barrier.
- The height of the barrier should not be less than 1200mm (1.2 metres)
- Where a boundary fence acts as a safety barrier to the pool, it should not be less than 1800mm (1.8 metres).
- The safety barrier, and the area around it, should be free from handholds or footholds, climbable objects or plants that can be used to gain access to the pool area.
- If a neighbour's fence acts as the boundary fence then there should be no climbable objects on the opposite side of the neighbour's fence which would give access to the pool area. This is not required for fences more than 1800mm (1.8 metres) high.
- The height of any opening between the bottom of the barrier and ground level should not exceed 100mm. Gaps in a safety fence should also not exceed 100mm.
- The barrier should be made from durable material such as timber, steel or glass.
- Gates must swing outwards from the swimming pool or spa area and be fitted with self-closing and self-latching devices that will prevent the gate from being reopened, and cannot be reached from outside the barrier by young children.
- Walls of a building can be considered part of the safety barrier as long as any windows that open onto the pool area are fitted with child resistant metal screens or bars that are fixed to the building or the window and can only be opened a maximum of 125mm.
- For above ground pools and spas, including inflatable pools, the walls of the pool can be considered an effective barrier, if at least 1200mm (1.2 metres) high, and as long as climbable objects such as ladders or filtration systems are not left or built against or near the pool. If they are, the pool or spa will require a compliant barrier.
Since 1 May 2010, all outdoor swimming pools and spas must not have direct access to the pool area via a door from a building, such as a house or a garage.
All swimming pools and spas constructed, or for which a building approval or building permit was issued, on or after April 1991 and before 1 May 2010, must be fitted with a child-resistant door that will form part of the continuous safety barrier and is self-latching and self-closing. In the case of screen doors, it is recommended that these be of solid construction with securely fitted fly wire. The door must be kept closed and latched or locked at all times, except when the person is in the act of entering or leaving the pool area.
All swimming pools or spas constructed prior to 8 April 1991, or where a building approval was obtained before this date, must have safety barriers complying with Part 7 Division 1 of the Regulations. Check with a registered building surveyor if your safety barriers are compliant. If you are replacing an existing safety barrier with a new barrier for a swimming pool or spa built before 1 May 2010, you will need to comply with the current Regulations and this work will require a building permit. Check with a registered building surveyor for further advice.
If you are replacing an existing safety barrier with a new barrier for a swimming pool or spa built before 1 May 2010, you will need to comply with the current Regulations and this work will require a building permit. Check with a registered building surveyor for further advice.
Temporary safety barriers
During construction, if the pool is filled with more than 300mm (30cm) of water it is categorised as a functioning pool and must have a safety barrier placed around it. A temporary barrier can be in place, until a permanent barrier is installed, but it must meet all safety requirements at all times.
A temporary barrier should be installed if any one or more of the following circumstances applies:
- The pool is prefabricated and filled on installation (for example, a fibreglass pool).
- The pool is in-ground and not self-draining.
- If the pool won't be maintained during construction (rainwater can accumulate in the bottom)
- The pool is in-ground and needs to be filled on installation (for example, vinyl lined pools).
- The property where the pool is being built includes a dwelling that is occupied.
A temporary barrier should be made from sturdy, weather-resistant material, such as shade cloth or metal mesh, held up with metal poles that are capable of withstanding dynamic forces such as a storm or heavy wind, with no permanent deformation.
Maintaining the barrier during construction depends on who (if anyone) is living at the property and who is responsible for the building site. Where a builder has been engaged to construct the pool or spa and its barrier, the builder is generally responsible for maintaining the temporary barrier while they are on-site, or if the property is vacant. Ensure this is agreed and contained in the relevant building contract. If the property owner is living on-site, they are responsible for maintaining the barrier when the builder is not on-site.
Where the pool or spa and its barrier is being constructed by an owner-builder the owner-builder is the person responsible for the work and site safety at all times. They must install and maintain the temporary barrier until the permanent barrier is installed and the building surveyor has issued a certificate of final inspection. An owner-builder will be designated as the 'person in charge of building work' in the building permit.
Swimming pool, spa and barrier building permits
You must have a building permit before you install a new pool or spa and safety barrier, start construction on a new pool, spa or barrier, or make alterations to a pool, spa or barrier (if not maintenance related). A pool or spa building permit must include details of the safety barrier and be issued as one permit. One building permit is required for the pool or spa and its safety barriers even if the builder engaged to construct or install the pool or spa is not going to also install the associated barriers.
Temporary inflatable pools or portable spas are exempt from requiring a permit each time they are erected. However, temporary inflatable pools or portable spas will still require a permanent compliant barrier for which a building permit is required.
A building permit is also required for installing and altering all swimming pool and spa safety barriers, including windows and gates that provide access to the pool or spa area.
The building permit must be issued by a registered building surveyor, either municipal or private building surveyor. A municipal building surveyor can be engaged by making contact with your local council. An application for a building permit must include details of the type and location of all barriers including latches, catches, self-closing and self-latching devices and fly screens.
Once the building work is completed the 'person in charge of the building work', as outlined in the building permit, must notify the relevant building surveyor who will do a final inspection of the completed swimming pool or spa and safety barriers. They need to be satisfied that the work has been built according to the building permit and the Regulations. At the final inspection the relevant building surveyor can ask for evidence of testing, or ask for tests to be done, to ensure the drainage system operates correctly, the barrier construction meets the structural design and that the gate operates properly.
Once your pool or spa is built, it should not be used until a permanent safety barrier is installed and a certificate of final inspection is obtained from the relevant building surveyor. This is the only way you can be assured that the pool/spa and safety barrier is compliant. If you don't comply, you risk the lives of family and friends and you may also be committing a breach of the Act which carries fines.
You can read more about the process of applying for a building permit for the construction of a swimming pool or spa in the About…swimmingpools, spas and their safety barriers' brochure.
Safety barrier maintenance
As the owner and/or occupier of a home you are responsible for taking all reasonable steps to ensure that any swimming pool or spa safety fence or barrier is regularly maintained and operating effectively. Below are some useful tips for maintaining safety barriers.
- Promptly repair any faults in gates, doors (where permitted at time of construction) and windows such as self-closers, latches, flyscreens, catches, and bolts by repairing as required to keep in good working condition.
- Make sure there are no chairs, boxes, pool pumps, tree branches, pot plants, or other items close to the barrier that could be used to climb the safety barrier in order to gain access to the pool or spa area.
- Make sure any fences (especially timber paling fences) are in good condition, with no gaps larger than 100mm and non-climbable.
- Ensure all gates or doors (where permitted at time of construction) that provide access to the swimming pool or spa area are closed at all times, except when entering or leaving the area.
- Where applicable, make sure the neighbours' properties adjoining your swimming pool or spa area have no potential hazards or climbable objects.
It is recommended that every three years you have your pool, spa and safety barrier inspected by a registered building surveyor or registered building inspector, to ensure that it complies with the Regulations and does not pose a safety risk to your friends or family.
Frequently asked questions
1. If I have an above ground swimming pool or spa, do I need a safety barrier?
The walls of an above ground swimming pool or spa provide a barrier if they are at least 1.2 metres in height and do not have a surface which allows a child to gain a foothold and climb into the swimming pool or spa.
Any objects that could be climbable by a young child, such as a permanent pool ladder, pool filter and pump equipment should be properly fenced.
2. I have recently purchased a house where there is no safety barrier around the swimming pool or spa. Whose responsibility is it to install a fence?
As the new owner you are responsible for ensuring that the safety barrier is provided. If you own, or are purchasing a home with a swimming pool or spa, and are not sure if the swimming pool or spa safety barrier complies, check with a private or local council building surveyor.
3. I am renting a house where there is no safety barrier around the swimming pool or spa. Whose responsibility is it to install a fence?
It is the home-owner's responsibility to install the safety barrier. Make contact with your real estate agent to request that a safety barrier be installed as a matter of urgency. Do not use the pool until the safety barrier has been installed and you have received proof from the real estate agent that a building permit has been issued and the certificate of final inspection has been provided to the home-owner.
4. I have recently purchased a temporary inflatable swimming pool. Does it require a building permit and a safety barrier?
The construction or installation of temporary or inflatable pools and spas does not require a building permit. However, if they hold more than 30cm of water they must have appropriate safety barriers and a building permit is required before the construction or installation of the safety barrier can occur. The temporary or inflatable pool or spa should not be used until the safety barrier has been installed and a certificate of final inspection has been issued by the relevant building surveyor.
Temporary or inflatable pools and spas containing less than 30cm of water do not require a building permit or a safety barrier.
5. I am installing a new pool or spa and have decided to engage separate swimming pool and safety barrier installers. Whose responsibility is it to install and maintain the temporary safety barrier during construction?
The issue of who installs and maintains the safety barrier during construction depends on who (if anyone) is on-site and who has responsibility for the building work. If you are living on-site, and have engaged a builder to construct the pool then they will have responsibility for installing the temporary safety barrier and maintaining the barrier while they are on-site. You will have responsibility for maintaining the barrier when the builder is off-site. Discuss this with your builder so that you are both clear on responsibilities and request a clause to be included in the building contract.
In the case of owner-builders, they are responsible for installing and maintaining the temporary barrier until the permanent barrier is installed at all times, as they are the 'person in charge of building work' as outlined in the building permit.
6. What if I am engaging a builder and they ask me to be an owner-builder?
Be wary if a builder asks you to sign an application for a building permit as an owner-builder, even though they will be doing the work. Telling the building surveyor that you intend to be the owner-builder when you have in fact engaged a builder is false and misleading and may expose you to offences and significant risks including the work not being covered by domestic building insurance, or being carried out by a builder who may not be registered and competent to do the work.
7. Can I use a door from my dwelling into the pool?
No. For safety barriers installed from 1 May 2010, direct access from any building into an outdoor pool area is not permitted.
8. I have recently installed a cover over my swimming pool or spa. Does it comply with the legislation as a safety barrier?
No. The placing of a cover or lid over the swimming pool or spa does not meet safety barrier regulations. You are required by law to provide a permanent safety barrier.
9. How do I know if the barrier around my swimming pool or spa complies with the law?
A private or local council building surveyor, or registered building inspector, can provide you with further written details of what is required for compliance usually on a fee-for-service basis.
10. A person claiming to be a building surveyor or inspector has recently visited my home requesting to inspect my pool or spa. Am I required to provide him with access to my home?
Home-owners are legally required to comply with the Regulations and standards for swimming pools and spas, including following the building permit process and obtaining a certificate of final inspection from a registered building surveyor at the end of construction. Home owners also have an ongoing obligation under the Regulations to maintain their pool or spa safety barriers so that they operate effectively at all times.
To confirm that the swimming pool or spa and associated safety barriers are compliant, and that the correct building permit process has been followed, a municipal building surveyor, or a VBA building inspector, may request access to your property. You should be given notice of the inspection and/or asked to give consent to allow access. It is recommended that you allow access so that an inspection can occur and any safety issues can be resolved. If you choose not to allow access, the council or VBA may be able to seek a warrant from the Court to allow them to enter without your consent. Request to see the officer's identification and if you have any concerns contact your local council or the VBA on 1300 815 127 to confirm their identity.
11. What are the penalties for non-compliance?
The Building Act 1993 (the Act) and the Regulations prescribe substantial fines that can be imposed on an owner or occupier who fails to comply with the swimming pool or spa regulations. Local councils are responsible for enforcing the Regulations and can issue on-the-spot fines for certain breaches. The VBA can also prosecute for breaches of the swimming pool and spa regulations.
An example of non-compliance may be failure to install self-closing or self-latching devices, or a failure to maintain your swimming pool or spa barrier so that it operates effectively at all times.