Automated gates are a regular feature within social housing developments, providing assured additional security for residents, both in terms of preventing children and pets from straying, while also deterring potential intruders. However, whilst such gates offer proven benefits, the risks associated with them are frequently overlooked.
The reality is that an automatic or electric gate is capable of inflicting serious injury or worse and in the UK, a number of deaths have been caused by the failure to either correctly install or maintain this type of installation.
Housing associations have a duty of care to ensure that any automated gates within their portfolio are legally compliant and have been installed in line with best practice. In addition, such gates should be regularly maintained by a suitably trained and competent person as required by law, and those responsible for facility management duties should undertake their own checks on the gates on a routine basis.
What is a legally compliant gate?
All automated gates (whether swing, sliding, bi folding or a rising arm barrier) are legally required to be CE / UKCA marked to demonstrate that they comply with The Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008.
Generally, the CE / UKCA mark will be applied once the gate has been installed but it is worth noting that a CE / UKCA mark does not necessarily guarantee that the gate is safe!
Critical gate safety features
Current legislation and best practice recommends that any automated gate should feature a minimum of two different forms of safety, to mitigate against the following risks:
- Impact – this describes when a gate hits a person or a vehicle during its operation
- Crushing – this describes the risk of being crushed between the gate / barrier and a fixed object 500mm or closer to the gate, for example, when a gate closes against a wall
- Dragging / Drawing in – this relates to a person being unwillingly pulled into or pulled by the gate, possibly into the support posts of a sliding gate
- Hooking – this refers to any parts of the gate that represent a risk of you or your clothing becoming caught and drawn into the gate and as a result causing injury
- Cutting – relates to any sharp edges in and around the gate capable of inflicting a serious cut-type injury
- Shearing – this describes a situation where two flat edges passing close to one another exists, that has the potential to shear a limb
Gate Safe – the lead charity associated with improving the safety of automated gates – recommends that all automated gates should be fitted with either photocells, light curtains or laser scanners which are all (non-contact) safety devices which will stop the gate from making contact with a person or object. In addition, the gates should be installed with the correct number and siting of safety edges will ensure that if a person / object is detected, the gate halts and reverses away. Warning signs must also be added to the gate.
Back to basics
While there has been much publicity concerning the safety devices that need to be fitted to an automated gate to improve its safety, numerous accidents involving automated gates occur not because of a failure to install photocells or pressure edges – or any relevant alternatives. The accidents occur because of the limitations associated with an inferior mechanical construction of the gate or barrier and factors resulting weakness in the actual fabric of the gate / barrier structure itself.
The construction and installation of gates and barriers is critical to ensure a safe and reliable operation. The following must be taken into account when considering the mechanical integrity of a gate or barrier:
Physical measures to prevent gate falling / leaves dropping
- The foundations for the gate or barrier should be substantial and must take into consideration the ground conditions as well as the weight and style of the gate. A solid gate will require a more substantial foundation than one with an open infill
- Necessary steps should be taken to prevent the gate falling over, derailing or one of the leaves dropping. Swing gates should always be fitted with three hinges so that in the event of one hinge failing, the gate is prevented from falling. In scenarios where this is not possible, a gate tether can be fitted to prevent the leaves dropping should one of the hinges fail. Inverting hinges for security reasons is a common practice within the UK but this means that the entire gate weight is supported by just the one hinge normally sited at the bottom of the gate and this can be a cause for a gate falling in the event of failure. Sliding gates should have end stops fitted in both the fully open and fully closed position to prevent the gate travelling past the support posts and potentially falling. Care should be taken with sliding gates to ensure that adequate support posts, guides and rollers are provided to further prevent over travel and the gate leaf falling. Goal post style portals are a preferred method for supporting sliding gates to ensure horizontal movement of the sliding gate
External safety considerations
External factors such as wind, snow, ice, water, plant debris etc can cause unintentional or uncontrolled movement of the gate. Examples include a tracked sliding gate which could potentially de-rail and allow the gate to over travel and fall as a result of a build-up of snow or debris. Solid swing gates can be a dangerous when moving in high winds so thought should always be given to the worst-case scenario for wind loading when specifying gates. This can also be an issue if the gate is placed in manual but not anchored adequately.
Additional recommended protection
Any areas which feature decreasing gaps in the gate design MUST be considered for additional protection. Protection could be in the guise of anti-finger trap guards or safety edges for swing gates, or the preferred method of generally fencing off the gate and mitigating the drawing in risk around sliding gates to prevent the risk of injury.
There are further possible dangers that those with a responsibility for automated gates need to be aware of:
- Automated gates are powered by electricity and therefore, as with any electrical appliance, care needs to be taken to avoid the risk of electrocution and fire. Only a professional who is trained and sufficiently competent (who holds the 18th edition electrical accreditation) should undertake the final connection of the gate to the mains power
- Trip hazards should also be given consideration when installing an automated gate. Unless clearly marked, these can increase the risk of a person falling into the path of a travelling gate. Centre gate stops and the track for a sliding gate are obviously essential components of the gate installation, but they must be easily recognisable. Segregated pedestrian access will help minimise these risks
- Gates should never be installed so that they can trap someone when they are opened, for example opening across an alcove or into / over a public right of way
- Safety devices installed on a gate must cover the full area of risk, for example, safety edges must run the full length / height of the gate to avoid leaving the most vulnerable area unprotected; photocells / light curtains must not be positioned too far from the gate leaving a ‘dead / unsafe’ zone between the gate and the safety equipment
- Swing gates should be designed in such a way as to eliminate any risk of a reducing gap, while sliding gates should have the runback fenced off to mitigate any entrapment risks or be protected by other means
Gate maintenance matters
Once an automated gate has been installed, the housing association has a clear responsibility to ‘maintain’ the correct level of safety.
Again, there is a legal requirement for the housing association to ensure that regular maintenance checks are undertaken on all automated gates and barriers. Gate Safe advocates that ALL automated gates undergo regular risk assessments both by the gate owner (monthly basic checks) and also a more comprehensive review by a professional installer or maintenance provider. Most automated gates will require at least one service every six months, but this could be more frequent if the gate / barrier undergoes a high volume of daily operations. Many systems are now fitted with a counter which can record the number of gate operations and it is possible to set this so that when it reaches a critical figure, the gate will cease to work until it is reset as part of the maintenance regime.
Monthly gate safety check list
Outside of the maintenance visits carried out by a professional installer, a visual inspection of the gate / barrier and surrounding area should be completed monthly to ensure the gate / barrier is still operating safely.
NEVER undertake any changes to the gate / barrier system that will alter its operation, as this could result in be leaving a dangerous machine in operation that could cause serious injury to residents, staff and visitors.
- Clean photocells / light curtain / laser scanner – ensure they are free of spider webs, dirt etc
- Check safety devices are working correctly, see Gate Safe guidance for details
- Cut back any plant growth around the gate and safety devices
- Check hinges / rollers / moving parts
- Check for wear and tear
- Check for signs of rust
- Check no changes in physical site which require alterations to the gate to be made
- Check gate is still in operation for the same planned original usage
- Check control box is securely fixed and locked
- Check any audible warning / flashing light / warning sign are still fitted and visible
- Check manual release and that location of manual release keys is known to all relevant key staff
- Check ease of manual operation
If there are any concerns with the gate or barrier those responsible switch it to manual operation and contact the maintenance company for an expert opinion.
For further guidance and details of how to find a Gate Safe approved installer visit www.-gate-safe.org. Those with a responsibility for automated gates can also attend the Gate Safe training course to improve their understanding of automated gate safety, visit our training page for details of the next course.