by: Andrés J. Calderón, Ph.D.
In today’s built environment, the public is exposed regularly to opportunities to use automatic doors. Automatic doors are commonly found at locations like hospitals, malls, supermarkets, and department stores. The public has learned to expect that when they approach the door it will open, and they can walk through the doorway. Engineers do not expect that people using these doors think about how they operate and what the safety parameters are for these types of doors. However, there are standards for these doors, which define how they should operate. Although reasonably maintained automatic doors are relatively safe, certain populations are sometimes exposed to danger if the sensors are not operating properly or if the settings of such sensors are not calibrated for the population using the doors. In addition, there are varying sensor designs and certain doorways or populations may warrant different sensors. If pedestrians walk too slowly as they cross the door threshold, they may not be captured by the motion sensor. Therefore, when a slower walking pedestrian enters an open doorway and has not been detected by a motion sensor, the door can begin to close while the person is within the threshold. For the young, healthy, and average individual this may not be an issue. But for certain pedestrians with a walking disability or an elderly person with compromised mobility, a closing door impacting them often leads to severe complications. As the door impacts the individual, they can be pushed off balance, fall and break a hip or impact their heads. According to the mechanics of the fall, this may lead to more complications than a bruised ego and can result in health problems. It is important that automatic doors are inspected regularly by trained store employees and have at least yearly inspections by a qualified service company. Employees performing an automatic door safety inspection completes basic tests for evaluating proper operation, which requires no special tools and performed properly does not expose the worker to a risk of harm.
It is also important to not only make sure that the door opens as someone approaches from the front but that the sensors are capturing individuals that may enter from a side approach before turning into the doorway. Agencies that provide services for automatic doors and the seller should train and provide detailed information to store employees with a procedure defining the daily door inspection in compliance with customary industry standards that are safe for a properly executed inspection procedure. Some owners/maintainers of automatic doors may also have a need to restrict pedestrians from exiting through certain doorways or vestibules. These locations require special attention by the door service personnel to make sure such operations do not create hazards for pedestrians. At Consulting Engineers and Scientists, Inc., we are well versed in the operations and the hazards that these doors can present for pedestrians and especially for populations that have reduced mobility such as the elderly. Please contact us if you have any questions or to discuss this type of accident.