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June 17, 2014

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£190,000 in fines and costs for firms after child’s crushed to death in electric gate

A Swansea installation firm and a Cardiff maintenance company have been sentenced for serious safety failings after a five-year-old girl was crushed to death by an electric gate. The companies had previously pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches. HSE warned other companies with responsibility for managing properties with automatic gates to ensure they are properly maintained.

Karolina Golabek was killed when she became trapped between the closing edge of the gate and the gate post outside flats near her home in Bridgend on 3 July 2010. 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 incident was investigated by HSE, which prosecuted John Glen (Installation Services) Ltd and Tremorfa Ltd after finding the gate was inherently unsafe and posed a clear risk.

Cardiff Crown Court was told that John Glen (Installation Services) Ltd had fitted a new electric motor to the gate when a previous motor had broken.  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.

Tremorfa Limited was contracted to maintain the gate. 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, including closing force measurements.

The court heard last week (12 June) that Karolina was playing around the gates in Brook Court when they automatically closed after a car passed through. HSE found that the closing force of the gate did not meet European and British safety standards.  It was in excess of 2,000N, the equivalent to the force created by a weight of 440lbs (220kgs).

There were also dangers with the gate structure, which left space for people to get trapped, and there were insufficient safety devices to detect a person in the area that would automatically prevent it closing.  These safety features were incorrectly set.

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 etc 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.”

When contacted by SHP John Glen (Installation Services) Ltd had no comment. SHP is awaiting comment from Tremorfa Ltd.

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