How safe is your carpark facility?
Car parks are often unassuming facilities, but they can be hazardous environments due to a high level of vehicle and pedestrian activity and thus must be managed with extreme care.
Owners of car park facilities are responsible for the safety of those who use their parking facilities, an issue that was highlighted in a recent legal case involving the death of a man who accidentally reversed through a safety barrier in a hotel car park in Sydney. The accident stressed the urgent need for car parks to undertake a safety audit to ensure their facility complies with current standards and that appropriate load bearing guardrails are in place.
In this particular incident, both the hotel and the council were found negligent, with the court ruling that the car park’s perimeter railings used for edge protection failed to comply with Australian Standard AS1170.1. While the concrete wheel stops had not been installed properly, the metal perimeter railing failed to comply with Australian standards, contributing to the fatality.
Engineers must keep such issues in mind when planning car park upgrades as such incidents are not uncommon. A similar incident occurred in 2013 at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle and, while the driver in this instance escaped serious injury, the accident prompted the hospital to replace its perimeter edging with a load-bearing barrier that exceeds current Australian standards as a protection against more accidents.
When designing or refurbishing car parks, or any car park infrastructure, engineers should consider the live load bearing of its perimeter edging and ask the question – could the railing withstand a vehicle impact? The current Australian standard dictates that a vehicle barrier should withstand a 30-kilonewton measure of force, which is equivalent to a 1500-kilogram vehicle (a mid-size sedan) travelling at eight kilometres per hour.
Carpark Compliance Solutions believes this current Australian standard is too light for today’s modern family vehicles, such as sport utility vehicles (commonly referred to as SUVs), and it does not reflect the actual car park traffic scenario where cars of all sizes are often travelling at a much greater speed within the parking facility. If one were to consider the consequences of a driver who accidently hits the accelerator instead of the brake and ploughs at high speed through a standard car park barrier (one that only just complies with the Australian standards), it is unlikely that the barrier would be able to contain the vehicle.
In the UK, the standards for car park safety barriers are more stringent to reflect a more accurate representation of a car park vehicle speed, which is set at 150 kilonewtons and designed to accommodate the impact of the average size sedan travelling at 20 kilometres per hour. By using the common equation of ‘force equals mass times acceleration’, there is reasonable cause to consider a review of the current standards.
The current Australian standard is prescribed to meet a variety of different scenarios, but at the rate of minimum impact force and for any vehicle travelling at the usual speed, up to 20 kilometres per hour, however, it may not be adequate to avert a similar car park disaster to the one mentioned above.
For a facility manager undertaking a review of their parking facility, there are a number of things to consider:
- Is the car park design and amenity adding or detracting from the business?
- Does the car park meet Australian standards?
- Is there clear delineation and segregation of pedestrians from moving vehicles?
- Is there sufficient lighting and airflow?
- Does the car park have an aesthetic appeal?
When upgrading car parks, the overall cost and solutions that meet the current standards are always important criteria, but those managing car parks need to carefully assess the level of activity in the car park to ensure it is adequately protecting the safety of those who are using it and in case the facility’s traffic flow increases, the perimeter standards should be increased too.
Undertaking a car park safety and compliance audit will help to identify whether safety upgrades are required and ensure the structure is aligned with current Australian standards. Upgrades that may need addressing include: replacing balustrades, new signage, line markings and concrete structural repairs.
Advice for managers of car park facilities:
- Review your current inspection and maintenance procedures and ensure those responsible are aware of the current Australian standards and compliance requirements.
- Assess the entire facility, including the exterior perimeter, observing and noting areas of risk. For example, check that perimeter balustrades and vehicle barriers are in good condition with no signs of wear or rust.
- Review pedestrian safety guardrails along staircases and walkways between levels and review the need for anti-climbing barriers. This is particularly important to ensure the safety of children.
- Identify any potential blind spots when entering, exiting or while driving around the facility. Consider whether high-impact end ramp barriers and safety guardrails need to be upgraded.
- Check the overall facility has adequate signage, lighting and ventilation, and that the vehicle driveway line marks are clearly visible.
The author Michael Reid is general manager of Carpark Compliance Solutions. Carpark Compliance Solutions manufactures and distributes a comprehensive range of fully engineered and tested vehicle, pedestrian and industrial safety barrier systems that meet or exceed Australian Standard AS1170.1.