Automated gate safety - can you afford to take the risk?

A fine of £50,000 and a publicity order was handed out to the company responsible for leaving the automated gate that killed Semelia Campbell in ‘a lethal state, when serious injury was entirely foreseeable’.

The judge ruled that company – which was charged with corporate manslaughter following the accident which saw six-year-old Semelia trapped by a sliding electric gate - had not sought technical advice from the supplier and that he knew little or nothing of the relevant standards in place to ensure the safety of such installations. The gate that caused Semelia’s untimely death had not had the correct settings activated so it was unable to detect her presence or modify its force. Equally significant although not always referred to in the majority of the media coverage is the fact that the gate installation incorporated neither photocells or pressure edges – although current standards require every automated gate to carry two different types of safety feature.

In a similar case last year, the two companies responsible for the automated gate that killed Karolina Golabek in Bridgend, Wales in July 2010 fined £110,000 and an additional £40,000 court costs.

The financial millstone of such (rightly so) hefty fines and costs is enough to break a small business. Put that alongside the inevitable negative publicity (in the case of the company responsible for the gates at Semelia Campbell’s home, their turnover showed a dramatic 50% decrease following the accident), the resulting irreparable damage to reputation, together with the moral burden of accepting that your negligent actions have caused a loss of life - and it is simply inconceivable that anyone would be prepared to take the risk of working on a gate without the requisite understanding of all the risks associated with this type of ‘machine’ and how best to ensure that it is legally compliant and safe.

Although the fines to date have been handed out to companies responsible for the installation or maintenance of automated gates, the HSE has been quite clear in its belief that it is not only the installer who has a duty of care. The property developer, architect, the main contractor, the landlord, the maintenance company, - all have been cited as Key Duty Holders so in essence any professional associated with the gate is morally and legally accountable for its safety.

Think about it and it quickly becomes apparent that there are many professionals who might be implicated if something goes wrong. So is it really fair to point the finger at just one of them? Consider the list of ‘experts’ who potentially could ‘gloss over’ the importance of making sure the gate is safe.

  • The architect – might put together initial plans which include an automated gate
  • The quantity surveyor – might source the gate specified by the architect
  • The developer or construction company – might change the specification of the gate and opt for an alternative, without necessarily checking that the new gate meets the same stringent safety requirements generally due to a simple lack of understanding (e.g. is the gate CE marked?)
  • The installer – might be sub contracted by the construction company to undertake the specialist installation of a gate and also has a duty of care to pass on the relevant usage / maintenance guidance
  • The electrician – might potentially be the last person to ‘touch’ the gate
  • The insurance surveyor – should be aware if the installation represents a potential safety hazard
  • The commercial property owner – where the health and safety representative has a clear duty to ensure the safety of the site
  • The property management company or letting agent or estate agent – should also be aware if the automated gate installed on the premises is not safe (just as it is required to ensure all gas installations carries the relevant safety certification)
  • The owner of the gate – has a duty to ensure the gate is regularly maintained (at least every six months) to ensure its continued safety and to be aware of any physical changes which might impact on the safe operation of the gate (for example, if a wall has been built in close proximity to the gate which would represent a risk not previously assessed)

With estimates suggesting that up to 90% of automated gates in the UK may be potentially unsafe, there is a very strong likelihood that a professional will be presented with one of these or may have even been responsible for its original installation. The question is, will they know how to rectify the problems? Will they have the required understanding and knowledge to make the gate safe? Or will they be putting themselves up for possible potential prosecution – and the above mentioned far worse consequences.

Is it really worth the risk? For the sake of just over £200 and a half day training course that provides access to experts in the field. Ask the company that was in court on Monday 7th December ….