Gate Safety: What have we learned?

Aged six years old, Semelia Campbell lived on a gated development built by Lowry Homes, in Moss Side, Manchester. In June 2010, Semelia was playing hide and seek outside with her best friend. Tragedy struck when she tried nipping through the car park entrance after a vehicle left.

She was trapped by the closing three-quarter-ton automated steel sliding gate, which pinned her against the gatepost and a wall. Attempts were made to free Semelia, her mother tried pressing the control, but neither would work.

Fire crews were delayed in finding the site because it represented a recent construction so police tried to prise the gates open with a jack before eventually freeing Semelia by deactivating the electronic box controlling them.

Semelia went into cardiac arrest and was taken to the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital where she died a short time later.

Less than six days later five year old Karolina Golabek was playing outside of the residential flats ‘Brook Court’ – a Leadbitter Homes development in Bridgend, Wales. The car park for the flats featured an automated sliding gate. Just like Semelia, Karolina became trapped at the closing edge of the gate and although emergency services attended, Karolina later died at the Princess of Wales hospital.

In both instances, the gates did not feature the necessary safety features to enable the gate to detect the presence of a child upon opening or closing. In addition there was a failure to recognize the need to negate obvious trapping and shearing points on the gate. In the Karolina Golabek case, it has been confirmed that there was a further oversight in terms of the fact that the object detection / force limitation was incorrectly set and never tested.

The Health and Safety Executive has been involved in both cases, in the Karolina Golabek incident the court has fined two companies (the company that installed the gate and the company responsible for the maintenance of the gate) for the part they played in breaching safety laws a total of £110,000 with an additional £40,000 in court costs. The director of the company which supplied the electric gates in Semelia died has been charged with unlawful killing by gross negligence. The person concerned has yet to face the final court ruling.

Almost five years later, what has the industry learnt from these terrible accidents?

  • That in any automated gate installation, there are a number of duty holders who have a responsibility to understand what represents a safe and compliant electric gate. Architects, property developers, the end client or main contractor, the installation company, the landlord, the maintenance company, the insurance surveyor, the letting agent, the electrician – the list of professionals who may at any time come into contact with the gate is a very long one. Yet they ALL have a duty of care to ensure the gate is SAFE and meets with the current guidelines pertaining to automatic gates
  • In order to be aware of what makes a safe gate those involved need to fully understand the guidance outlined in the relevant standards. Professionals must also be educated to appreciate that every gate represents a unique set of circumstances and as such, must undergo a full risk assessment to design out / remove any potential hazards which could result in the gate becoming unsafe. There should also be awareness of the need for regular maintenance and risk assessments should continues once the gate is in service
  • Apportioning blame to one person is futile. Not only is it incorrect to accuse one individual for the mistakes that were made, it can potentially lead to a culture which suggests the focus is on ‘it’s not my responsibility’ or ‘what do I have to do not to get prosecuted’ rather than ‘what do I have to do to make sure the installation is safe’
  • That there are many victims following an automated gate accident. First and foremost the family and friends of the deceased. But anyone who is implicated in the accident is also likely to suffer both morally and financially. People lose their livelihoods, may suffer from mental health problems and are ostracised from society
  • Ignorance is no excuse - in the eyes of the law – or indeed in the eyes of anyone affected by an automated gate accident. An installer who fails to observe the correct safety guidelines runs a significant risk of prosecution as evidenced by recent case law

Training and education can go a long way to preventing further tragedies occurring. New automated gates are being installed on a regular basis and in addition we know for a fact that there are many non-compliant gates still in the field. Armed with the right knowledge, the chain of professionals who may come into contact with a gate all play a vital role in ALWAYS specifying, installing and maintaining gates that would be considered safe.