The onus is on the owner to ensure children are safe at the pool. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

The rules governing swimming pools could become a lot stricter across South Africa if proposed legislation for Joburg is introduced around the country.

Marike Stals, legal and compliance manager at MUA Insurance Acceptances, says it is essential that consumers make sure they are aware of the legal and insurance implications of owning a swimming pool as new legislation could eventually place even more onus on the owner.

There are two types of cover under building insurance policies.

“The first covers the actual damage of the structure, while the second is legal liability cover, where the homeowner protects themselves legally against something happening to guests, trespassers and/or their tangible property on the insured property.

“The owner of the pool is held accountable under the SA Law of Delict in the event of a drowning incident. SA’s civil liability laws mean a civil claim can be charged against a pool owner for any damage suffered as a result of drowning.”

She says internationally, pool safety laws are very strict. SA is following this trend and a draft by-law for the Safe Guarding of Swimming pools has also been proposed to the City of Johannesburg. This is legislation based purely around the safety-proofing of swimming pools.

“The new by-law aims to regulate the access to swimming pools and is intended to protect members of the public from drowning. Following the promulgation of the by-laws, anyone who wants to have a pool installed on their property must apply to the city for approval and all pools must adhere to strict rules according to the by-law.

“Those who have pools in their property already, will have two years to notify the council about the existence of their pools following the promulgation.”

MUA believes the by-law could be enacted in other centres in future.

Stals says all the pools on their books have to be safeguarded in terms of the current regulations, which means they must be maintained and fenced off and children should not be able to climb over the fence. All outdoor pools will be required to have a pool cover or must be fitted with a floating pool alarm when the pool is not in use.

“If homeowners with swimming pools do not comply with the statute in the proposed by-law they can face criminal charges, such as fines or even imprisonment. Additionally, the insurance policy will not cover the homeowner if they have not complied with the new by-law, which could potentially be a huge financial loss if the homeowner is found guilty of negligence.”

However, city attorney Malcolm Roup of Roup Attorneys said at the moment the proposed by-law only applied to Joburg. In Cape Town, common law still applies.

“If the pool owner is found to be negligent, the person suffering damages may claim from him or her. However, this is normally covered in your householder’s policy.”

He suggested that local pool owners check this with their insurance brokers.

Meanwhile, Christelle Fourie, managing director of MUA, said having a swimming pool requires all-year round maintenance including during winter and homeowners may risk having a claim repudiated if the damage is determined as a result of neglect.

“It is vital for home owners to realise that when it comes to swimming pools, only damage considered sudden and unforeseen will be covered by their insurance policy. This is provided they have included the proper value of the swimming pool in their home insurance policy.”

Fourie provided tips for good pool maintenance and safety:

* Maintain secure fencing and a locked entrance around the pool and deck area to prevent access when adequate supervision is not available.

* Make sure there is adequate lifesaving equipment, including life preservers and a rescue hook.

* Keep chemicals safely stored. Follow all storage and usage instructions recommended by the manufacturer.

* Never leave a child unattended in the water or pool area.

* Inspect the liner periodically for rips and tears.

* Check for signs of wear and tear in areas where pipes or other items may have penetrated the liner.

* For swimming pools above the ground, check metal supports for rust or deterioration. These may indicate areas where the pool could rupture or a person could be injured.

* Check the deck for safety hazards, such as protruding nails.

* Keep your pool maintained and seasonably prepped. Be sure to lower the water level and keep the pool covered in winter.

* Install an audible pool alarm to alert you if someone falls into the pool while it is unattended. - Cape Argus