December 2014

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Just last month, Nandan Ramdass of Longdenville was clearing grass in his yard when a solid steel gate fell on him. The 75-year-old died a couple agonising hours later.

In August 2014, Adita Roopchand was killed when the 4.5m x 2.4m steel sliding gate to the family home in Beaucarro Village slipped off its track for the second time and fell on her.

Adita was seven, the age when children are not quite as babyish as the under-fives, and though they strive to be treated like the older ones, they are still playful at heart and are apt to spontaneous actions.

Perhaps there is something about that age group that renders them more vulnerable to giddiness, more likely to jump on a gate while it is sliding, more likely to climb on to it whether it is closed or swinging ajar.

In February 2013, Zuri Waleed Singh had his 3-year-old skull crushed when a sliding metal gate (7’ x 10’ wide) fell on him. The day before Jameel Ali, a 7-year-old student at the ASJA Primary School in Pt Fortin was injured when the sliding gate fell on him as he was opening it.

Just before Christmas, the family of Anthony Ali, another 7-year-old was killed when a steel gate that was leaning against a wall at his home, fell on him.

In that same period one other fatality was recorded locally, and that was Sankar Gopie, who lost his life one month before his 91st birthday, doing something that he did every day without fail, opening the gate for his daughters to drive into the yard.

The numbers of injuries from falling gates is around eight for 2014, says Rodney Harnarine, a development engineer at the Department of Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering at The UWI’s Engineering Faculty. He is also on the Building Committee of the Presbyterian Primary School Board which oversees 72 elementary schools and five colleges.

“We’ve had accidents: three; one at Tacarigua Presbyterian this year. A child was playing on the gate and it came off the track and the gate fell on her; luckily it was not too serious.” At Balmain Presbyterian it was worse. In a similar incident, a girl was injured, “now she has medical problems; her brain has been affected.”

He talks about the fatal incidents with Adita and Gopie from Penal, concluding that there had been about seven or eight accidents with gates this year alone in Trinidad.

But he notes that this is not only a local problem.

“Most gates have an electronic beam that stops the gate if it is interrupted; is that functioning?” It has to function perfectly or the force of the gate can crush whatever is in its path. “But, in our cases the gates have not been motorised,” he noted.

Still, it has raised questions about the quality of the gates, the maintenance, and more pertinently, about the installation process.

“The wheels need to have something to hold it and stop.” Having investigated what happened at the primary school in Tacarigua, he said that the clasp at the top did not hold because it was broken, “and the gate just toppled over.” He is convinced it was the same factor in the Balmain incident.

“There are no standards,” he said. “People just go to welders and they construct gates and install motors and so on. Safety needs to be enhanced. We need to set up some kind of standards that installers must follow. When there is an accident the installer should be held accountable.”

“The Bureau of Standards ought to add this area to their purview,” he concludes.

Errol Rampaul, Head of the Standardization Division of the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards (TTBS) agreed with Harnarine, but conceded that they face many constraints. Chief among them was the absence of national standards and legislation regarding the construction, fabrication or installation of driveway gates.

“However, the Regional and Municipal Corporations, based on the Municipal Corporations Act (No 21 of 1990), are legally responsible for regulating building construction, i.e. approval of building plans, monitoring of construction and issuing of completion certificates before occupation. While at this time driveway gates are not being monitored by the Corporations, this may be possible under the legislation once there is agreement by the Ministry of Local Government, the Corporations (and the legal minds) that such gates could be considered as part of the curtilage of the building,” he advised.

Standards are also generally voluntary, so enforcement falls largely to the industry itself, and self-regulation has been largely a lax affair. But while standards are initially voluntary, he said they can be accorded compulsory status by the minister responsible for trade and industry on the recommendation of the TTBS. In theory, he said, the TTBS can formulate a standard for driveway gates and have it accorded compulsory status due to health and safety concerns, but the reality is that since there is another regulatory body (the regional corporations), they would not be able to enforce it.

“The best option here will be for TTBS to formulate a voluntary standard with inputs from the industry stakeholders including the regional corporations, fabricators, etc; the standard can then be adopted and enforced by the regional corporations under the Municipal Corporation Act – once there is agreement by the various entities and the legal minds,” he said.

It would not fall under the OSH Act, despite concerns about health and safety, because his interpretation is that the “OSH Act and the OSH Agency were established primarily to deal with occupational health and safety, i.e. issues relating to the workplace. Even if the driveway gate is installed in a business compound, it is still the Regional Corporation which will have to issue the completion certificate.”

Given that standards worldwide are generally voluntary, they are promoted by industry associations. “In such societies, litigation by consumers, advocate groups and even manufacturers ensure that delinquent players are weeded out,” he said. “In our society (built on a colonial past), legal enforcement has proven to be the most effective method but for practical reasons cannot always be employed. For instance, it would require a small army of people to adequately enforce even a fraction of all national standards.”

He said that in this specific area, “compliance to voluntary standards could be made one of the pre-requisites for obtaining approval of building plans and completion certificates.”

His recommendation with regard to driveway gates?

“Determine which government agency would be the most effective regulator for ensuring driveway gate safety (we believe that it is the Ministry of Local Government and specifically the Regional Corporations since they fall under the MOLG); this would be done in consultation with the various stakeholders and government agencies. Then identify the causes of the problems leading to unsafe driveway gates and develop national standards or codes of practices to address these problems and or practices. Finally, have the regulating agency incorporate the voluntary standard or code of practice within its regulatory framework, sensitize the public and begin enforcing these requirements nationally.”

In the meantime, it falls to the consumer to ensure that they exercise great diligence in selecting competent fabricators and installers for their gates and to regularly check that all the components are functioning properly, and to be vigilant, especially when children are around.