Handrails & when they should be provided
You might think it obvious that a staircase, wherever it is, should have at least one handrail with which to steady yourself. This is particularly important for those with small children, or those who are elderly or infirm.
However, the law does not require handrails to be made available across the board in all such places. So why is this?
Basically, the law distinguishes between places of employment on the one hand and home and other premises on the other.
Duty in the workplace
In a place of employment, the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992 and in particular Regulation 12 (v) requires the provision of a handrail in accordance with the Code of Practice to protect employees from harm, unless the situation at the workplace is such that this is not possible. Therefore, unless the exception applies, it is very straight forward and a handrail must be provided.
Duty in the home & other premises
For home owners and the owners of other premises in which people are invited as visitors, such as hotels, shops and nightclubs to name a few, the liability for the absence of a handrail depends on whether it is necessary to satisfy their duty to visitors to take reasonable care under the Occupier’s Liability Act 1957. The Act requires all occupiers to exercise reasonable care to ensure, so far as is reasonably practical, that their property is safe for visitors.
Therefore, if a property includes a steep flight of steps or a staircase, then whether a handrail is required is determined by whether the stairs are likely to be considered dangerous and failing to have a handrail would not satisfy the requirement to take reasonable care. If there have been any previous accidents or complaints about the absence of a handrail this will greatly assist in showing that there should be a handrail.
For tenants, the date the property was constructed will be an important point in addition to whether there have been any previous falls or complaints about the stairs.
In practice, whether a handrail is present or not will depend very much on when the property was constructed, because under the Building Regulations, any flight of steps should have a handrail on at least one side, if less than one metre wide, and on both sides if wider.
However, for properties older than the Building Regulations, such as historic structures, then it is less likely that a handrail will have been installed when it was constructed. In these older buildings, we simply have to rely upon whether or not the owner has taken reasonable care of visitors by failing to install a handrail as there is no specific obligation to update or improve the stairs by installing a handrail to comply with modern day building regulations.
If it is considered necessary or appropriate for a handrail to be installed, the duty does not end there. It should also be maintained so that it can be used in a safe manner. If a handrail is already fitted, but is defective, e.g. where it is loose or coming away from the wall it should be repaired as soon as possible.
To ensure that this is done it is important that any problem with a handrail is reported to the appropriate person, whether that is an employer, landlord, home or business owner, so that it can be repaired. This is essential where you are a tenant and we would recommend making a note of any complaints you make and/or making them in writing. Whether or not you have reported it is likely to be an important point in successfully claiming compensation from a landlord in such circumstances, dependant on the terms of your tenancy.
Why it is important
Accidents which arise from falls on stairs account for a large number of injuries sustained in the UK every year both inside and outside of the home.
Many serious injuries could be avoided each year if handrails were properly installed and maintained and it is important that employers, landlords, home and business owners understand their responsibilities. The provision and maintenance of a handrail does not need to be expensive but it could save a life!
How we can help
We have successfully recovered compensation for our clients who have been injured as a result of falling on stairs where there is no, or no adequate, handrail.
If you or a family member have been involved in an accident in the past three years then contact us on 0800 213 214 or complete our simple on line enquiry form to discuss claiming compensation.