Electric Gate Safety

Faulty electric gates are not only a health and safety hazard but could also lead to a costly insurance claim.

Electric gates are designed to keep residents and their property safe and secure within the confines of a block or development. However, when they are not fitted correctly or they are poorly maintained things can go badly wrong, as Duncan Brown explains.

In the summer of 2010, two young children died in separate incidents, after being crushed by electric gates on residential developments. One of them, Karolina Golabek died of injuries sustained when she became trapped between the closing edge of a gate and its gate post outside flats near her home.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) investigated Karolina’s death. It prosecuted two companies after finding that the electric gate was inherently unsafe and posed a clear risk. Both companies were tried at Cardiff Crown Court in June 2014. It was concluded that Karolina was playing around the gate when it automatically closed after a car passed through. Her body was discovered in the gap between the post and gate a short time later.

The HSE found that the closing force of the gate did not meet European or British Safety Standards. It also discovered dangers with the gate structure, which left space for people to get trapped, and that there were insufficient safety devices that would automatically prevent the gate closing if a person was detected in the area.

Company A fitted a new electronic motor to the gate when a previous motor had broken. The gate was put back into use despite the fact there were obvious trapping points. Company A also failed to properly test that the gate stopped when it met an obstruction, or test the force that the gate closed with. It was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £40,000 in costs, after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.

Company B was contracted to maintain the gate. Despite carrying out two maintenance visits, one only six weeks before Karolina’s death, it didn’t carry out vital safety checks, including reviewing closing force measurements. Company B was fined £50,000 with costs of £40,000, after it pleaded guilty to the same charge.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Stuart Charles said, “If you own or are responsible for managing properties with automatic gates you should ensure they are properly maintained. You should also ensure that those carrying out the maintenance are competent to do so.” This tragic case and others involving fatalities, clearly illustrate the potential dangers of electric gates, which now feature on many residential developments. It is therefore vitally important that managing agents, as well as directors and secretaries of RMCs and RTMcos, check that electric gates on their development(s) are properly installed, maintained and repaired.

RMC Directors must do all they reasonably can to make certain that the electric gates they are responsible for are correctly installed or maintained. For example, ignoring the gate manufacturer’s recommended maintenance advice would be considered by the HSE and the courts as ‘failing to act reasonably’.

If anyone responsible for managing residential property is found to be acting negligently where electric gates are concerned, they may find themselves personally liable for losses or, in the worst case scenario, for any personal injury caused as a result of faulty equipment or procedures.

Duncan Brown is an associate solicitor with Oliver Legal in Ipswich.

FOLLOW THE HSE GUIDANCE

The HSE issued two safety notices in 2010 providing details of the risks of electric gates and the protection methods that must be adhered to. The detailed information contained within these notices is intended primarily for the gate industry, but can be used by managing agents and anyone else responsible for managing residential property to help them ensure that the firms they employ to maintain, install and/or repair electric gates are competent to do so.

The HSE also issued a general safety notice in January 2011 targeting facilities managers, and others who are responsible for developments with electric gates. This notice also contains very useful advice to Directors and Secretaries of RMCs/RTMcos and managing agents about electric gates on their developments. For example, when purchasing a new gate, they must ask the installer to show them how to release the gate in an emergency and confirm that the installer will ‘CE’ mark the gate and issue them a Declaration of Conformity.

The HSE recommends that people or organisations responsible for electric gates should periodically review their risk assessments to ensure that they identify any changes to the environment or operating conditions and that they have taken appropriate steps to address them. This is particularly important when the responsibility for management of the gate passes from one person or organisation to another. All safety devices and features should be checked on a regular basis and in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions to ensure they continue to function as designed to ensure that safety is maintained. This should be specified in a planned preventative maintenance schedule agreed by those responsible for the gate's management and their appointed maintenance company.

To read or download the HSE Notices on electric gates go to the HSE website

IS YOUR BLOCK GATE SAFE?

Gate Safe was set up in the wake of the tragic deaths of the two children crushed by automated gates in 2010. The organisation was established to call for tighter guidelines and legislation around gate safety in a bid to prevent any further loss of life and to deliver an enhanced awareness of the critical safety issues associated with automated gates via training and education.

Gate Safe founder and chairman, Richard Jackson explains that although legislation exists along with various standards providing guidance on the manufacture and installation of electric gates, the interpretation and awareness of this information can lead to confusion. It is also clear that under current guidelines, there is no formal requirement to undertake any specialist training prior to becoming involved in the specification, supply or installation of automated gates and that the sale of such items is not limited to a list of professional, registered organisations.

Gate Safe would also like to see tighter controls in relation to the maintenance of gates which were installed prior to the current guidelines / legislation.

Richard’s advice is that, “Anyone who owns or comes into contact with a gate that has not been installed by a Gate Safe Aware or Door and Hardware Federation (DHF) trained installer, or one that is not being maintained by such an installer, should contact Gate Safe as soon as possible to ascertain whether the gate poses a genuine safety risk.”

For more information on Gate Safe and a list of recommended installers, visit their website

This year’s Gate Safety Week runs from the 12-15 October 2015 and is aimed at raising public awareness of the dangers of poorly maintained powered gates. For more information click here.

RMCs - DON'T FORGET YOUR D&O LIABILITY

Electric gates are just one aspect of block management that can get RMC directors into hot water.

Duncan Brown’s article emphasises the health & safety aspects of electric gates but it also throws into sharp focus the necessity for RMCs to take out effective Directors & Officers insurance – known as D&O cover.
Flat Living recently came across a number of other cases that clearly illustrate the need to ensure you are insured.

Sometimes the risks – and costs to directors - come from unlikely sources, such as when a squirrel got into the roof space of a block of flats from nearby trees and decided to chew on the wiring it found there.

Residents blamed the RMC directors for not cutting back the trees and although they successfully defended the case, their legal costs came to £4000. Luckily their D&O insurance paid out.

In another case, members of a management committee were held individually liable for failing to appoint a competent builder to reroof their block. The work was not up to a reasonable standard and the company later went into administration. The management committee was held accountable for the costs associated with re-roofing for the second time - luckily they were covered via their D&O policy.

It’s not just directors who can find themselves in the firing line. The secretary of a small block of flats was recently asked to get a range of building insurance quotes. The contract selected – in common with the majority of policies) contained a small print restriction relating to unoccupied or unfurnished flats. When a pipe burst in an unoccupied flat in the block and caused substantial damage to a neighbouring property, the secretary was held responsible for failing to obtain suitable cover for the block in question.

Finally, one resident in a block who was also a barrister got so involved in bad feeling surrounding a campaign to remove the management board and replace it with a new one that she threatened the chairman with a libel suit. The barrister never followed up her allegations in court but the legal advice and legal representation required by the management board amounted to more than £20,000 – costs that were covered by the D&O policy.

So the moral of this story is that if you are involved in the management of a building, you never know who you might end up in a dispute with – anyone from a barrister to a fellow resident or even a squirrel! Your D&O cover could make the difference between peace of mind and financial disaster for you and your fellow directors, so make sure you are properly covered.