It’s time for gates to get safer

Many of us have experienced the frustration of waiting for an electric gate to creak open to let us or our cars through – some unfortunate souls (myself included) may have lain awake, irritated and exasperated by the clanging of a closing gate.

But have you ever looked at a gate and considered it a fun place to play? Unless you are truly in touch with your inner child, probably not! You probably wouldn’t look at an automated gate and be tempted to see which of your limbs fit through the gaps in the gate, or play chicken while it swings or slides shut.

As much as you probably don’t see a potential playground when you look at a motorised gate on your apartment or office block, I doubt you look at it and see a risk of serious injury or painful death.

Unfortunately though, while accidents involving automated gates are relatively rare (as far as we know), they can have disastrous consequences. In the space of just a few weeks in 2010, two little girls died in separate incidents after getting trapped by a motorised gate near their homes. Tragically, they are not the only ones – RoSPA knows of at least one other death and three seriously injured children in the past few years in the UK and more abroad. Doubtless, many more have had narrow escapes.  

These horrifying accidents were splashed across the newspapers – it was hard not to be affected by the tragic stories of six-year-old Semelia Campbell who became trapped while playing hide and seek and Karolina Golabek, aged just five, who was crushed when playing with a cat she had befriended near her home.

Gate Safe Summit attendees electric

At the Gate Safe Summit, from left, RoSPA’s campaigns officer Charlotte Heap, Gate Safe’s Richard Jackson, RoSPA’s campaigns manager Michael Corley, John Lacey from IOSH, Door and Hardware Federation’s Michael Skelding and Nick Ratty from the HSE.

The experts in automated gates took action immediately – Gate Safe was set up in September 2010 supported by the girls’ grieving families. Remarkably, Gate Safe, which has been working to improve safety standards for gate automation ever since, is run by volunteers from the industry, backed by the HSE, IOSH, the Door and Hardware Federation and RoSPA

We undoubtedly face a daunting task – with a worryingly high percentage of potentially unsafe gates (according to the findings of a Gate Safe survey) already in operation and many more being designed and specified as we speak.

Impressive progress has been made so far, as demonstrated at the Gate Safe Summit held at the RIBA building in London last week. Complex standards and safety protocols are being revised and amended, the Government has been petitioned and key industry players have been brought on board.

Listening to the passion with which the diverse panel spoke about the, admittedly technical and, to the untrained ear, quite perplexing, issues around making automated gates safe, it is clear that there is a strong collective will to make sure that no family has to experience loss in this way again.

Architects, insurers, installers, designers and manufacturers were all in attendance. Some spoke of specifiers that place cost before safety and competitors that would happily meet these unsafe expectations. The people in the room were committed – the worry is that those who weren’t present do not yet grasp the need for action.

The design, manufacture, installation, use and maintenance of automated and semi-automated gates are all factors in their safety. The hearts and minds of everyone involved in the process need to be won, including those of the people that use the gates, adults and kids alike. 

The event was as moving as it was technical – people that knew the families of Semelia and Karolina spoke emotionally about the impact of their deaths and the importance of Gate Safe’s work. Mixed in with technical and legal lingo, and noble ambitions to train and educate industry players, was the stark reality that children had died playing around gates because there was nowhere else “safe” for them to play.

Karolina Park, in Bridgend, was opened a year after she died on the site of a park near her home that had been closed at the time of her death because it was dangerous. As well as a fitting memorial, it demonstrates the importance of safe places for children to play.

Karolina Park Bridgend Wales child safety

Karolina’s Park - a safe place to play in Bridgend, Wales.

Making automated gates, new and existing, safer is vital and the industry (steered by Gate Safe) is making important strides in that direction. But so is the need to make sure that electric gates are used properly – if instructions and warnings are heeded then they pose little risk.

Most importantly, there is a need to ensure youngsters are not able to play unsupervised near gates. Safe alternatives, like the play area dedicated to Karolina, reduce the temptation of playing in the vicinity of an automated gate and supervision by an adult can remove this temptation entirely.

Any death is one too many, and there have no doubt been other injuries and near misses that have gone unreported. Gate Safe, supported by RoSPA, is working hard to improve gate standards and designs but it is clear that people need to be more aware of the danger.

Parents need to know that there is a risk so that they can educate and supervise potential victims. This is where you could come in – Gate Safe needs support to help ensure that more deaths are prevented.

Support RoSPA’s Electric Gates campaign here. Visit Gate Safe’s website here.

 Charlotte Heap, RoSPA’s campaigns officer

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