Guardrails And Handrails – The Lowdown

Guardrails And Handrails – The Lowdown

08th May 2014

Every employer in the UK is duty bound to take into consideration the safety of all employees.  With falls being the most common cause of injury in the workplace, it’s important to consider some of the factors that may be contributing to falls.  This is particularly important in the construction and refurbishment industries because of the need for employees to work at heights.  This means that employees need to be protected by being provided with the appropriate equipment to carry out tasks safely and with minimum risks.  Many falls that take place in the workplace are from fairly low levels and this is often the result of wet floors, cluttered working environments, poor lighting or the improper use of equipment.

Generally in industry, the trigger height for providing fall protection is 4 feet and it is the employer’s responsibility to make sure that the correct safety equipment is available to protect workers from all types of falls.  While there are so many instances where an employee could be at risk of a fall, there are a variety of different solutions available, depending on the circumstances.  The type of equipment used to minimize the risk of falling will need to comply with specified construction and usage requirements in order to ensure that the equipment is relevant to the types of tasks being undertaken.

Handrails and guardrails are one of the most common methods of preventing falls to lower levels in the construction industry.  Any platform that is 4ft or more above ground is legally required to be protected with a rail on all of the open sides.  These guardrails and handrails must be 950mm (minimum height) to comply with Working at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR).  This means that any handrails or guardrails installed before this legislation came into force in 2005 will need replacing.
An additional clause in the WAHR requires that handrails should not be cold to the touch – this is because people may be reluctant to use them, especially during cold weather conditions.  This presents an added safety hazard for workers so metal or wooden rails now need an extra coating or materials with low thermal conductivity (like plastic) to ensure that employees are not taking an unnecessary risk by not using the rails during cold weather.

Because so many of the step units in the UK were fabricated before these regulations took force, this has led to the units requiring a retro-fitted guardrails solution in order to comply.  It’s vital that any employers or business owners who have step units on their premises now need to check that the handrails or guardrails comply with the updated regulations and this is recommended for all step units.

Any business owner or employer who neglects this issue may end up facing costly legal action for failure to keep up to date with legislation.  All installations must comply with current UK Health and Safety standards in order to offer workers an adequate level of protection from falling in the workplace.