The catastrophic cost of skimping on maintenance

The recent court case where a skip hire boss was fined £20,000 for safety failings after a worker was crushed to death in December 2011 by a heavy falling gate underpins the importance of ongoing maintenance of automated gates.

The tragic case flags up a number of important reminders for anyone who either owns or is responsible for the maintenance of an electric or even heavy steel manual gate. It also confirms that not all accidents related to automated gates are as a result of a failure to fit the correct safety devices. It is equally important to assess that the gate represents a mechanically sound installation …

Regular and thorough maintenance of the gate in question would have picked up a number of ‘mechanical’ issues relating to the integrity of the gate itself that should have been resolved. An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) revealed:

  • the mechanism was hitting the post, which resulted in fatigue cracking. This should have been investigated as it could have been the case that the gate had not been set with the minimum force to operate reliably
  • the gate was hitting the ground, this would indicate that again the maintenance had not been carried out correctly
  • the gate was swinging to, indicating that the post or hinges had moved
  • extra hinges had been welded onto the posts and then packed with metal washers. Fitting the washers was merely a quick fix and failed to get to the root of the problem. It could have been the case that either the post had moved in the foundation, the hinges had worn or perhaps the gate had gone out of alignment. The use of the washers also meant that neither a split pin nor a cap, used to secure hinges in place, could be fitted. This meant that when the gate caught on the ground, there was nothing to stop it falling off its hinges

The harsh reality is that it could have been one of the above factors, or a combination of them that caused the gate to fail but if it had been installed and maintained properly – and each individual issue dealt with, the death of the worker could have been prevented.

Maintenance matters. Failure to make the necessary checks can cost lives.