Court Witness Speaks Out on Automated Gates

© 2007 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Summer 2007
Author: Tom Wadsworth
Pages 52-54

Court Witness Speaks Out on Automated Gates
Learning Safety From a New Perspective

By Tom Wadsworth, Editor

Editor’s Note: This story presents the unique perspective of a construction engineering expert who has testified in court for accidents involving automated gates. You may not agree with every statement in this story, but you should ask yourself, “Are you a part of the problem or a part of the solution?”

“In the automated gate cases I’ve worked on, it’s particularly disheartening when the safety technology is available, but it’s not being used.”

So says Dr. Stephen Wexler, a 64-year-old expert in construction engineering. Wexler is a professional engineer (P.E.) and a licensed safety engineer with a B.S. in civil engineering, an M.B.A., and a Ph.D.

In the last 15 years, he has often been called to testify in court in accident cases, sometimes for the plaintiff and sometimes for the defense. He has testified at 200 trials, has given more than 500 depositions, and has been retained and consulted for thousands of cases.

For our industry, Dr. Wexler has testified for many accident cases involving sliding gates, swinging gates, and parking gates. Wexler’s involvement with gate accidents has often brought him into contact with gate manufacturers and installers.

Disseminating Safety

“I’ve spoken with several people in the gate operator industry who are trying very hard to add safety to these installations,” he says. “But from my perspective, I don’t see safety information being disseminated.”

“Today’s gate operator manufacturers provide a lot of advanced safety technology,” he adds, “but that technology is not well understood or communicated.”

Rick Sedivy of DoorKing is not so sure about the communication part. He says that manufacturers are required to put specific safety instructions in all installation manuals.

Sam Blaney of Byan Systems agrees. He adds that his company also recommends safety devices on all quotes to installing dealers.

Beyond Installation Instructions

Richard Woltjer at HySecurity says his company “goes to great lengths to ensure that all our partners, from architects through end users, know that safety is paramount to the successful installation, operation, and maintenance of their systems.”

He says that safety is “job one” in HySecurity manuals, tech support calls, factory training, on the Web, and in all literature. “We tell installers that it is mandatory to take each customer through a complete operation and safety run-through of the system and its manuals,” he adds.

“The gate operator industry has been stressing safety on these products for more than 20 years,” Sedivy adds. “Most manufacturers include safety seminars in their training programs, and there are various seminars on gate safety at all the trade shows.”

Safety Available, But Ignored

Nonetheless, Wexler believes that many automated gate installations are not as safe as they should be. Having investigated many accident sites involving automated gates, he has observed many installations that were not equipped with available safety features.

Dr. Wexler says this is unfortunate. “Making installations safer from the initial installation is relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of adding safety components later on,” he says. And he wonders why these components aren’t installed from the get-go.

HySecurity’s Woltjer thinks government-mandated safety components would make a difference. “Until this industry gets regulations that are backed up by building codes, permits, and inspections, there will always be those who ignore safety,” he says.

Motivating the Installers

Wexler often testifies in cases in which people have been severely injured. “In the automated gate cases I’ve worked on,” says Wexler, “it’s particularly disheartening when the safety technology is available, but it’s not being used.”

He wonders if the installer is not adequately motivated to educate the owner about key safety components. Whatever the reason, Wexler believes it’s a shame that safety features are often not included on automated gates.

Woltjer explains, “Installers who have never been taken to court and never realized their legal and financial exposure often see safety as an up-sell rather than an absolute requirement.”

It’s Not Just the Installers

But installers aren’t the only problem. Woltjer says the end user sometimes ignores specific warnings from the installer.

“Some installers won’t even touch a system that fails to meet current safety standards,” he says. “Some installers go so far as to send a non-compliance notice, stipulating that their involvement is contingent upon the end user’s agreement to meet the safety standards.”

“Some architects and end users have overtly refused to meet current safety standards due to the costs involved. Even when pressed by HySecurity in writing, they persisted,” Woltjer adds. “Economics is king in some organizations.”

Byan’s Blaney says estimators can also be a problem. “Estimators try to compete with companies that use unlisted equipment and do not care about repeat sales,” he adds. Blaney believes more training for estimators is needed.

A National Campaign?

Wexler has pondered the gate safety problem, and he has some ideas of how the problem might be solved.

“I think the gate industry needs a national advertising campaign that informs building owners that these installations are very important, that they can be made safe, and it’s very economical to do so.”

Over time, Wexler believes that such a campaign would make a difference. “But,” he adds, “I realize that it’s simple for me to say that.”

How to Make Progress

Woltjer thinks that a national campaign would have little effect. “It’s not that people are unaware that the standards exist; it’s that many entities still pay little attention to them. The reality is that economics sometimes trumps safety in a competitive marketplace.”

He believes that UL 325 and ASTM F2200-05 should be made part of the national building code and that installations should require permits and be inspected. “Nothing short of this will generate widespread compliance to these standards,” he says.

Sedivy believes that the gate operator installer certification program, now being developed by an industry ad hoc committee, is a positive move in the right direction. “This program is a good step that will help installers recognize the need for and requirements of safe and proper gate operator installations.”

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