By Chad Engle, Loss Prevention and Safety Specialist

The fine folks in the claims department have provided me with another topic for my monthly Safety Short article. They recently handled an incident in which a wheelchair user experienced an automated door that would not open completely and once it was open, it started to close immediately. In this incident, it was also alleged that the ramp into the room was too steep and caused the wheelchair user to fall over backwards out of his chair.

Shortly after the incident described above, I was visiting a member courthouse and upon leaving had to help a frail elderly person open the door to exit the building. In this case, the automated door was not functioning at all, making the door more difficult to open than had the automated opener not been in place. A situation like this creates a liability when we fail to maintain the automated door resulting in an unsafe condition.

The research I did for this article revealed that the applicable regulations and standards are complex and difficult to understand. I am going to provide an overview based on the information I found online, and information provided by ADA expert, Richard Sternadori. You may recognize Richard’s name as he has presented at multiple NIRMA conferences on the ADA and related topics.

Richard advised that doors are an area where lots of injuries and accidents occur. Pinch points, trip hazards, etc. I would agree that this is the case, whether it is an ADA automated door or not. Richard also pointed out that when an ADA automatic door is installed anywhere as part of a public entrance, the installation must be maintained in the original operating condition.

28 CFR § 35.133 – Maintenance of Accessible Features
(a) A public entity shall maintain in operable working condition those features of facilities and equipment that are required to be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities by the Act or this part.
(b) This section does not prohibit isolated or temporary interruptions in service of access due to maintenance or repairs.

Most doors that I see in NIRMA member buildings are Low-Energy Power Operated Doors, doors where you push a button, and the door opens and closes automatically. These doors should remain open for not less than five seconds and shall close from 90 degrees to 10 degrees in three seconds or longer. Doors shall close from 10 degrees to fully closed in not less than 1.5 seconds.

To identify and repair automated doors that are not functioning correctly, most manufacturers recommend that owners and operators complete a “Daily Check” of these doors. This should not be difficult to comply with as member county and agency employees utilize these entrances each day and should notify maintenance immediately if an automated door is not functioning correctly.

Automated doors are helpful features for all users but are a necessity for users with disabilities. Owners of buildings with automated doors are responsible for ensuring that they are installed and functioning correctly. Failing to maintain automated doors increases the risk of accidents and injuries to all users, visitors, employees, those with disabilities and those without. I highly recommend daily checks of all ADA automated doors to ensure proper function. This will reduce the risk of injuries and put the county or agency in a much better position to defend a claim if one is presented.

If you have further questions related to automated doors, Rich Sternadori advised that he would be happy to help. He can be reached at sternadorir@missouri.edu. As always, I can be reached at chad@nirma.info or 1.800.642.6671.

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