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Gate Safe: Ten Years On

23 May 2020

GATE SAFE was established in 2010 in the wake of the tragic deaths of two children crushed by automated gates in separate accidents. The charity’s aim is simple – to put a stop to any further accidents or fatalities occurring as a result of unsafe electric gate/barrier installations. Security Matters interviews founder Richard Jackson (pictured) about the myriad achievements realised to date.

Security Matters: Since starting Gate Safe ten years ago, have your objectives changed at all?

Richard Jackson: Our fundamental goal when we first started out was to save lives and put an end to any further unnecessary accidents and fatalities as a result of an unsafe gate. This objective remains true today.

At our very first Gate Safe Summit back in 2010, it also became evident that there was a lot of misinformation and confusion out there regarding what actually constitutes a safe gate or barrier, so education and spreading the word regarding Best Practice in relation to the installation and maintenance of these machines remains an absolute priority.

As we have learned more about the industry and deepened our understanding regarding the various professions who are associated with automated gates – from architects through to surveyors and on to insurance bodies, electricians, school caretakers and homeowners – we have then adapted our specific messaging for each target audience.

Security Matters: What do you believe to be Gate Safe’s key achievements to date?

Richard Jackson: Over the last ten years I have been proud of a number of initiatives that Gate Safe has spearheaded. Taking the campaign to Downing Street and developing an ongoing association with Westminster to ensure the topic of automated gate safety features on the political agenda has not been an easy feat, but we remain dogged in our determination to instigate change at the very highest level.

In March, we were due to meet with officials at the Department for Education to discuss how to improve gate safety in a school setting. Sadly, the Coronavirus forced us to postpone that particular meeting.

Of course, the roll-out of the Gate Safe Aware IOSH-approved training in 2012 has been key to our ongoing mission of educating those involved in the installation and maintenance of automated gates. With no less than 1,855 Gate Safe Aware installers in the field, the established Gate Safe Aware Installer Register means that people can easily access a suitably trained and competent installer.

The Gate Safe MOT is another scheme which we have launched and, over time, we expect this to gather more momentum. By making it very simple for a gate owner or gate user to identify when the gate was last serviced thanks to the MOT sticker, we are hopeful that there will be a stronger call to action to ensure gates are not only installed correctly, but also maintained on time.

Most recently, we were able to respond to the major challenges presented by COVID-19 situation, which made it impossible to deliver our face-to-face training. Within just two weeks, we had developed a distance learning module to enable installers, and others keen to improve their knowledge of automated gate safety, to continue their learning via an interactive online training programme. The distance learning has proven to be very popular and we now have plans to extend this type of training to cover other safety/security-related matters.

One of the most encouraging changes that we’ve witnessed over the last decade is the growing number of installers, commercial gate owners, schools and even Government bodies who naturally turn to Gate Safe for guidance and advice on any automated gate or barrier issue. We’ve always retained our status as a truly independent and unbiased authority on gates. This has enabled us to maintain our credibility in the field.

Security Matters: Where have you struggled to initiate change and why do you think this is?

Richard Jackson: We’ve always found it difficult to garner support from architects who, at the end of the day, are often the first professionals capable of ensuring the safety of an automated gate by specifying a safe design and a gate with the appropriate safety devices in the first place.

Architects are mostly interested in building structures which highlight their creative design skills. The safety of any perimeter security measures simply does not feature high on their list of priorities.

Trying to harness the power of Building Control to establish required protocols for any new gates has also proven very frustrating. Following a meeting with Local Authority Building Control, we’ve been advised that, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, trying to push through any new recommendations for the safety of automated gates via Building Control is likely to fall on deaf ears.

Security Matters: What are your priorities going forward?

Richard Jackson: Looking ahead, we have identified a number of key priorities for 2020. These include strengthening our work within the schools sector, trying to elicit support from the insurance industry such that insurance premiums are affected if a gate is not safely installed or maintained and continuing our push to prevent the sale of automated gate kits to those individuals who don’t have the necessary skills and training to understand how to deliver a safe automated gate.

Security Matters: Are there cases where safety protocols may be overridden by the need to observe the highest level of security?

Richard Jackson: The basic rule is that all machines - automated gates are classed as machines - should be safe to use and operate, but there may be situations where it's imperative that a gate has to close because to not do so would represent an even greater risk than possibly injuring one person. The most obvious example would be to prevent a terrorist attack.

However, there would need to be a strict protocol in place to ensure that only suitably trained personnel had the authority to override the safety and that the control could not be accidentally operated. This would likely be a key switch.

Typically, this would be reviewed via risk assessment. Would the potential for loss of life be greater if a terrorist achieved their aim measured against the loss of life resulting from operating the gate without safety in an emergency situation?

Security Matters: ​Do you think the market for automated gates/barriers will continue to grow?

Richard Jackson: Access control is an integral aspect of perimeter security and we see no sign of a slowdown in the application of automated gates or barriers to deliver an effective means of restricting vehicular/pedestrian access to a site. Automated gates are no longer the preserve of the affluent elite. Today, they are a regular feature on many commercial premises, as well as in schools and, increasingly so, within multi-unit developments.

However, while there is a strong demand for these installations, since there is now a heightened awareness of the potential safety risks associated with automated gates and barriers, businesses have a clearer responsibility to ensure that the gates installed are compliant with current Best Practice. Sadly, some surveys undertaken by Gate Safe at the back end of last year signal that it is more than likely another accident is likely to happen. We reviewed 49 sliding gates and only ten of them were deemed safe, with nearly 80% categorised as being unsafe.

Similarly, we looked at 65 sliding gates and, shockingly, 98.5% were certified ‘unsafe’ – with only one (1.5%) considered to be safe.

In the event of an accident, the courts will always look at the chain of professionals associated with an unsafe gate. Hefty court fines (of up to £80,000) have been handed out and an installer has even been jailed for his part in the death of a woman who was killed by an unsafe gate. Put simply, businesses are laying themselves wide open to potential litigation and reputational damage if they don’t adhere to the appropriate guidance.

Security Matters: In your opinion, how many security installers are suitably trained and competent to engage in the installation of automated gates?

Richard Jackson: In the main, the larger organisations have an understanding of what is required, although the level of understanding will vary, I am sure. The people that I am most concerned about are the smaller companies that enter the gate automation supply business by accident. For example, an automated gate may be added to an existing contract or perhaps an existing client asks the contractor if they can ‘just sort the automation’ because they are a trusted supplier. As is the case with most industries, the smaller companies represent a very significant part of the supply chain.

Security Matters: What are the risks if they haven’t undertaken the relevant training?

Richard Jackson: The risks are very serious. Being held accountable for an accident or worse will have a lasting impact on a business’ reputation, let alone the distress it will cause to the individual. Few if any security businesses can survive the financial ramifications of being found guilty of a serious misdemeanour.

Security Matters: What is your message to anyone who chooses to become involved in automated gate installations?

Richard Jackson: It’s very simple. Take the Gate Safe Aware training so that you can join the register of approved installers. By joining the credible register, you will not only demonstrate your company’s commitment to upholding the highest standards of professionalism and safety, but you will also be aligning your business with the charity that pioneered the whole automated gate safety initiative and was commended by the Health & Safety Executive for doing so.

All Gate Safe Aware installers have access to a comprehensive training manual and regular training updates as well as the Gate Safe advisory line providing independent unbiased technical support, access to the Gate Safe MOT scheme and, of course, the opportunity to market their business and generate leads via the independent Gate Safe website (www.gate-safe.org).

*Security Matters is an Official Supporter of Gate Safe