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Safety Alert - Electric gates

Welcome to the HSE podcast.

In this episode we speak to David Ashton, HSE's Director of Field Operations, about the new warning that's been issued to the manufacturers and installers of electric gates.

Tragically there were two deaths this summer just a week apart to two young girls who were crushed when they were trapped between the gates and the columns against which they automatically shut.

But first here's a roundup of other health and safety news.

The offshore oil and gas industry has been warned about its safety record as new statistics show an increase in major injuries and hydrocarbon releases. HSE figures show there were fifty major injuries reported between April 2009 and the end of March, an increase of twenty on the previous year. There was also a marked rise in the number of major and significant hydrocarbon releases. These include unplanned gas releases and can potentially lead to major incidents. There were eighty five compared with sixty one in 2008/09. For the third consecutive year there were no fatalities in the areas that HSE regulates but this doesn't take into account seventeen lives that were lost in offshore related transport incidents.

A boarding school in Shropshire has been fined £25,000 after a worker was killed demolishing a building on the site. HSE prosecuted Moor Park Charitable Trust Ltd which runs Moor Park School after it arranged for a team of inexperienced building workers to demolish a large wooden classroom in August 2007. Mark Evans from Ludlow suffocated when the roof collapsed on top of him after the integral building supports were removed. Four other workers escaped serious injury. The school hadn't ensured the workers were competent to do the job before they started work.

HSE has successfully prosecuted several tradesmen in recent weeks after they were found to be illegally fitting gas appliances, putting residents at risk. One workman who falsely claimed to be a registered gas engineer has been fined £8,000 after installing gas appliances in London, and a landlord in Exeter was fined £4,000 for illegally fitting a gas boiler, leaving the work unfinished. He too was not registered to carry out the work. HSE is warning tenants and householders to check that any work on gas appliances is only carried out by a Gas Safe registered engineer. A list of registered engineers can be found on the Gas Safe Register website.

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HSE has issued a new safety alert to the manufacturers and installers of electric gates following three incidents, two of which were fatal, involving children being caught in them as they were closing. We spoke to David Ashton, HSE's Director of Field Operations.

Tragically there were two deaths this summer just a week apart to two young girls who were crushed when they were trapped between the gates and the columns against which they automatically shut. There had been a death in 2006 of a young boy, slightly different circumstances, but clearly where we find that such wide spread installations, because these gates are quite common, can cause such devastating consequences we needed to look at that and see whether there was a safety issue to advise people about.

You've put out a safety alert, what does that say and who is it for specifically?

This safety alert I would say is mainly aimed at those who manufacture and then install the large metal automatic gates which we actually see pretty commonly on car parks and blocks of flats and so on. So they are the essential target audience, but it will also be useful to people perhaps who live in those blocks of flats who just want to be generally assured, well is the gate that I'm involved with, that I go through on a daily basis, is that safe. They'll find it helpful, but the main thing is to get some basic technical information through to the people who can actually check and ensure that the gates are safe.

What happens when these gates are installed? I mean is it a case of they're installed and that's the end of it, or do the installers have a duty to ensure that they remain safe? How does it work?

I think there's a number of quite logical obligations here. The manufacturer has a duty to manufacture a gate that will be safe when properly installed. Then you want the installer to do their job correctly and make sure that safety features of the gate are working correctly. Then there will be maintenance and you might then have a landlord or tenants association in a contract with the installer having the gate checked occasionally to make sure that it's still working properly.

You've specified additional safeguards for these gates, so what are those safeguards?

Both the tragedies in 2010 occurred when those big metal sliding gates closed and they can create that crushing trap between the gate and the column against which it shuts. We don't need to introduce any new safety features on them. Investigations I should say are at a fairly early stage, we're working hard with the two respective police forces to complete those investigations, so I'm not going to go into the detail of those, but what we are able to say even without waiting for those investigations to be completed is that it's important that some well established safety features are in place and operating correctly on all gates of that sort. That's the value of the safety alert, it lets us get that information out widely and quickly.

So these large sliding gates require a number of actually well established safety features. When they're opening and closing there's quite a lot of force because the gates are big and heavy, but if they meet an obstacle then that force should quickly reduce and indeed the gates should at that point back off. Installers will need some test equipment so that they can make the right tests on the closing force and to see that that's happening in accordance with the specification. That's not enough in itself though. The gates should have sensors that can stop them if someone has been detected, which could of course be a child playing around the gate or even just passing through it. So those devices might be light beams, photoelectric devices that is, or other suitable means for stopping the gate before they reach an obstacle and cause harm. If there are parts of the gates where someone could become trapped or crushed when it's moving, for instance the gate might have a column and it might slide past a fixed part of the installation, we will say look at the shear trap in that to make sure that if somebody puts their arm through they're not going to be injured. A matter of good installation practice. Also the gates must have an emergency release mechanism, so that if other devices fail and somebody is trapped it's possible easily and quickly to oblige the gate should we say, to open again, and for the victim to be rapidly released and treated hopefully before harm is done.

And who do you get that information out to?

Well anybody who wants to click onto the HSE website will find the information there. There's a range of trade bodies and other people who we know do this sort of work, they do make and they do install this sort of gate, so we've targeted them directly and proactively.

There was a case last year where a young boy was killed when he was crushed in a set of electric gates and his mother was there but she couldn't do anything to stop that happening. Is that one of the safety features as well, where you know, where humans can override the machine?

That was a tragedy in 2006. What happened last year was that the court proceedings came to a conclusion. That was a hinged gate. It was installed in such a way that the little lad who was killed could reach behind the gate to the control button which was on the inside of the gatepost, and in so doing as the gate opened it created a crushing trap into which he was trapped between the gate and the pillar. We issued a safety alert at that time pointing out the design issues that appeared to be relevant to that particular tragedy. So that and these sliding gates create slightly different problems, but essentially there's a common message underneath, in the movement of these gates can they create dangerous crushing zones where we want to make sure people will not get trapped, and if so what are the safety features to prevent that happening when the gate operates, and are those safety features in good working order? I think they're the key questions.

Visit the transcript for this podcast episode at hse.gov.uk/podcasts for more information about the issues discussed in this interview.

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Updated 2011-04-08