Stairs are the place where most deaths and serious injuries happen in the home. Reports have indicated that more than 1,000 people die every year from falling down stairs with an estimated further 250,000 non-fatal accidents on stairs in the home each year. These rates have been calculated as equivalent to there being a fall on stairs at home every 2.5 minutes. With regard to falls on stairs outside of the home, it is estimated that there are over 100,000 each year in the UK with approximately 500 such reported accidents in the workplace.
British Standards for stairs have been in existence since 1944 and the layout and design of stairways are now controlled by Building Regulations. The Regulations provide for appropriate dimensions, including rise & pitch, suitable headroom, adequate handrails and stair coverings. However, these Regulations will only apply to stairways installed after the implementation of building regulations. In older buildings, we simply have to rely upon whether or not the stairway is reasonably safe as there is no specific obligation to update or improve stairs for example by installing a handrail to comply with modern day building regulations.
One of main ways of preventing serious injuries from falls on stairs is to ensure that a good, solid handrail has been installed. In the majority of cases, having a handrail will enable anyone who does fall to steady themselves and stop their fall. As a business owner or landlord it is sensible to ensure that any stairway with over 2 steps has such a handrail, thereby making the stairway reasonably safe. Failing to have a handrail could otherwise result in a successful claim for compensation should a customer or tenant fall and injure themselves.
There is a higher duty for employers to comply with when it comes to stairways in the workplace. There are specific workplace regulations that require the provision of a handrail to protect employees from harm, unless the stairs position is such that a handrail is not possible. Therefore, unless the exception applies, all stairways in the workplace must have a handrail.
Where a handrail is installed it is then equally as important that it is maintained and repaired as necessary to ensure that it can be used safely. 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.
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!
Harris Fowler has a team of specialist personal injury solicitors who can advise anyone who has suffered an injury as a result of a fall on stairs. Free and friendly legal advice is available on 0800 213 214.
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