A five-year-old girl was crushed to death by an electric gate in Bridgend on July 3rd 2010 and a Swansea installation firm and a Cardiff maintenance company have been sentenced for serious safety failings.

Karolina Golabek was killed when she became trapped between the closing edge of the gate and the gate post outside flats near her home.   John Glen (Installation Services) Ltd and Tremorfa Ltd were prosecuted after the incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who found that the gate was inherently unsafe and posed a clear risk.

Cardiff Crown Court heard on Thursday 12 June 2014 that Karolina was playing around the gates in Brook Court when they automatically closed after a car passed through. Her body was found in the gap between the post and gate a short time later by a resident. She was rushed to hospital, but died as a result of her injuries. The gates closing force was in excess of 2,000N, the equivalent to the force created by a weight of 440lbs (220kgs). HSE found that the closing force of the gate did not meet European and British safety standards. There were also dangers with the gate structure and its safety features were incorrectly set which left space for people to get trapped.  There were insufficient safety devices to detect a person in the area that would automatically prevent it closing.

The court was told that John Glen (Installation Services) Ltd had fitted a new electric motor to the gate when a previous motor had broken but that the gate was put back into use despite the fact that there were obvious trapping points. The firm also failed to properly test that the gate stopped when it met an obstruction, or test the force that the gate closed with.

The company contracted to maintain the gate was Tremorfa Limited. Despite carrying out two maintenance visits, the last one just six weeks before Karolina’s death, the company did not carry out vital safety checks that included the closing force measurements. John Glen (Installation Services) Ltd of Phoenix Way, Garngoch Industrial Estate, Swansea, was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £40,000 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Tremorfa Ltd, of Pascal Close, St Mellons, Cardiff, was fined £50,000 with costs of £40,000 also pleaded guilty to the same charge.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Stuart Charles, said:

“Karolina’s death has left her family devastated, and yet it could so easily have been avoided. Both companies walked away from the gate leaving it in an unsafe condition. Both could have prevented this tragedy. Automated gates are becoming more common and it’s sometimes difficult to appreciate that even small gates can close with significant force.  Badly installed and maintained gates are a threat to all pedestrians, but young children are particularly vulnerable because they are often completely unaware of the dangers.” “No-one should install or work on automated gates without knowing the relevant safety standards or without having the right equipment to check that the gate is safe after they have worked on it. 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.”

 

Phil Jones (Technical Director) comments:

When designing, constructing, installing and/or commissioning electrically powered gates, or where managing sites where electrically powered gates exist, employers must ensure so far as is reasonably practicable that:

1. They have undertaken a suitable and sufficient risk assessment which should include the following;

  • the identification of any trapping and/or crushing zones;
  • the identification of ways in which safe operating systems (such as key-pad or key-fob systems) may be defeated; and
  • the identification of ways in which persons may be harmed by the gates should they be activated automatically.

2. They have eliminated and/or controlled any risks identified from the risk assessment(s). Wherever possible risks should be eliminated, but where they need to be controlled, technology such as fixed guards, pressure sensitive strips, safety sensor flooring, light barriers or infra-red detectors may help control and/or reduce the risk, but consideration needs to be given to how a person may still be harmed if one of these systems fail.

3. Where your organisation uses contractors you should satisfy yourself that the contractor is sufficiently competent to carry out the work that is asked of them. Their work should be periodically monitored and reviewed.

4. Any component parts (such as motors and motor arms) supplied by separate manufacturers should be installed in accordance with the manufacturers guidance, and used in accordance with their instructions for use.

5. Persons adopting the responsibility for the management and maintenance of the gates should be provided with the appropriate safety documentation, instructions for use, and training in how to operate and maintain the gates safely.

For more information visit HSE website