ACT News

ACT government considers regulating water safety at publicly accessible private pools

The ACT government is looking at whether it should regulate water safety at more than 50 private pools accessible to the public.

The government has released a discussion paper on the issue for feedback, looking at a range of issues including whether the government should ban alcohol at privately-owned pools.

Lifeguard Seamus Leyland on duty at the CISAC Swimming pool in Bruce.
Lifeguard Seamus Leyland on duty at the CISAC Swimming pool in Bruce. Photo: Ray Vance

In the ACT, there are about 50 privately owned, publicly accessible pools.

These range from larger public pools with limited access, to pools accessible only as part of a program such as learn-to-swim pools, or only by members or guests at a facility such as hotels, motels and health clubs.

Life guard at CISAC, Claire Pullan of Belconnen.
Life guard at CISAC, Claire Pullan of Belconnen. Photo: Graham Tidy

Water safety at public pools not owned by the territory is currently self-regulated, meaning there are no minimum standards or guidelines with which pool operators must comply.

"The government does not have the ability to address water safety issues and problems at these facilities; this may be out of step with community expectations," the discussion paper says.


However, the discussion paper said operators of privately-owned pools in the ACT were generally aligned to industry association such as the Royal Life Saving Society Australia and were supported in this way in developing water safety initiatives.

Sport and Recreation Services director Jenny Priest said drowning rates at public pools were very low and in the past decade, there had been two deaths in public swimming pools in the ACT, one of which was still the subject of a coronial investigation.

Sean Hodges, Group Operations Manager at CISAC, inside the swimming pool area.
Sean Hodges, Group Operations Manager at CISAC, inside the swimming pool area. Photo: Graham Tidy

Ms Priest said water safety measures were an important part of managing the risk of injury and drowning.

The discussion paper questions whether water safety risks justify government regulation at privately-owned pools.

"Subject to the outcomes of the consultation process which is currently under way, ACT government intervention in water safety at privately-owned public pools could be tailored to suit different categories," Ms Priest said.

"Regulation, if required, would not necessarily be heavy-handed. For some pools, regulation might be limited to signage requirements and first aid equipment being available.

"Lifeguard supervision, for example, may not be required for all pool categories."

Canberra International Sports and Aquatic Centre group operations manager Sean Hodges said the centre welcomed anything that supported water safety.

"Anything that's going to help make the pool safer, we're supportive of. Obviously the last thing we want to see is an incident at any pool and if there are things that we can do to help prevent that, then we'll be supportive of it," he said.

Mr Hodges was concerned additional water safety regulation could result in higher costs.

"The last thing we want to see is more red tape or more government fees and that is, I guess, the balancing act that we'll be raising with the government," he said.

"We're 100 per cent supportive of actions that might help make people safer across all pools but we also want to be careful that we don't put too much regulation into an area that already requires quite a bit of money to keep pools running."

Mr Hodges said the CISAC pool received a 99.25 per cent safety rating from Royal Life Saving in its most recent safety assessment.

"We're already more than confident that we would exceed any regulations that the government put in to help improve water safety," he said.

"The most important things are lifeguards being trained, having the correct qualifications, having the Royal Life Saving pool lifeguard award and also that the lifeguards are having ongoing training."

The discussion paper also looks at whether any categories of public pools should be exempt or if private pools should be required to conduct annual safety audits.

Ms Priest said the government was consulting with the community, peak bodies and industry and no decision about water safety regulation had been made.

Community feedback on the discussion paper closes on February 26.