France has the highest rate in the world of infant death by drowning in a swimming pool. Betty Carlson explains how to make sure your pool meets the standards.
>Your dream has become reality: you own a home in the French countryside. But the sizzling summers wilt your energy, and you have decided to take the plunge. That is: to build a private swimming pool.
You won’t be alone. There are more than 1.1 million private pools in France. But this is accompanied by an increase in tragic accidents; 15 to 20 children five or under die every year in French pools.
What does the law say?
All newly built private pools were required to be equipped with standardized security devices. All pools used for seasonal rentals such as gîtes have been subject to the new regulations. Here’s how to make sure your pool meets safety regulations.
Four choices for safety
To be in accordance with the law, equipment must comply with the official French standards, or normes françaises indicated below. Pool owners have a choice of one of four safety devices.
Pool shelters (standard NF P90-309): Many attractive styles of pool shelters, or abris are available. Low shelters must be retracted before using the pool, but high shelters can remain in place to allow swimming during rainy weather. Pool shelters are reliable and relatively easy to install, but are the most expensive of the four options – they can cost more than the pool itself!
Alarms (standard NF P90-307): Alarms may be installed in the pool or around the pool area. Although they are the least expensive alternative, their reliability is questionable. The Commission de la sécurité des consommateurs (CSC) is studying the different alarm systems following three child drownings in alarm-equipped pools and will release an official opinion on the subject on June 1. The only benefit of alarms is cost, but do you really want to put financial considerations first on such an important subject?
Pool covers (standard NF P90-308): Retractable pool covers must support an adult’s weight and are generally considered a reliable security system. “Personally, I think that automatic covers are the best product on the market, as they are both aesthetic and efficient,” says Daniel Bos, operations manager for pool equipment wholesaler SCP France. However, covers still need to be put back on whenever the pool is not supervised.
Barriers and fences (standard NF P90-306): Perhaps the most obvious security solution is to build a gated fence around the pool. For pools on rental properties, the gate must be fitted with a self-closing, locking gate. These barrières, as they are referred to in the standards, are a permanent and popular safety device.
Keeping up standards
After an initial period of adjustment, pool dealers and builders now know the new standards. But make sure you know the norm numbers, and check that your purchase complies with them. Insist on receiving a certificate of conformity indicating that the product corresponds to the correct norm.
Some products are marked with a blue “NF” logo, which means they meet certain safety and traceability requirements. Confusing as this may be, the NF indicates that the product can be sold in France, but in no way replaces the numbered standard codes above. A certificate of conformity is the only legal document proving that a product complies with the safety laws.
Finally, if you do purchase an alarm, which can be useful as a back-up safety system, beware of cut-rate offers on Internet. Some sites promise that their products “comply with standards”, but these articles do not always meet the requirements of French law.
The Direction Départementale de l’Equipement, or D.D.E, is the government agency responsible for pool security and other building safety issues. You can find information in French only about the pool standards on its website.The D.D.E. should also provide a list of certified quality agents who can carry out security checks and deliver an attestation de conformité if your pool was equipped with a safety installation before June 8, 2004.
The internet site Sécurité-Piscine.com offers clear explanations of the standards and will send you free documentation by post in English and French. You can also consult the Fédération des Professionnels de la Piscine for detailed advice about pool safety, construction and use. Finally, the pool dealership Piscine Plus in Gourdon in the Lot (46) caters specifically to English-speakers. Their site is in English and explains many aspects of pool security and installation.