Unsafe temporary handrail causes fall injury at housebuilder’s site


As work progresses on a site, temporary construction safety measures have to be put in place and altered or replaced as required – it is an iterative process that requires ongoing scrutiny from managers and/or safety professionals to maintain the proper levels of security. This incident shows how things can otherwise go wrong and cause danger to employees and others.

Leading housebuilding company Bellway Homes was working on a new development in Earsdon View, Shiremoor, Tyneside in December 2012.

A 23-year old female agency plasterer was on the 1st floor landing of a nearly-completed property. She had stopped clearing some rubbish and she began to talk to another worker below in the hallway. The landing had a temporary handrail and she leaned on it, causing it to give way, and she fell some 2.6 metres to the ground.

Inadequate safeguards

This handrail was only one length of wood that was affixed to a protective covering on an upright post at one end: and was supported with a single nail in a timber doorframe at the other end. It was the doorframe end that broke off.

Crucially, the firm had not fitted a mid rail, which would have supplied added bracing and personal safety support.

Extensive injuries

The unfortunate worker needed a metal plate to be fitted into her right arm. She also suffered a broken wrist, and fractures to the forehead, cheekbone and jaw, as well as a hairline fracture on one hip. Tendons in her left hand were severed by the impact and she was extensively bruised on her face, neck and back. Sadly, she is still in constant pain and she needed more surgery after the event. It was 6 months before she could start to work as a labourer, and it is thought unlikely that she can resume her trade of plastering.

The key point in the subsequent HSE prosecution of the building firm was that it should have fitted a stronger handrail.  To quote the inspector:

…working on a landing area without suitable safety measures in place is simply not acceptable.

For this simple but potentially deadly lapse, North Tyneside Magistrates’ Court fined Bellway Homes Ltd of Newcastle the sum of £10,000 and costs of £905.. The firm had pleaded guilty to a breach of Regulation 6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

It is worth refreshing your familiarity with the dangers of falls from height, and the measures that should be taken, here 

Hard-pressed managers and supervisors can find it difficult to keep on top of every aspect of construction safety, with the numerous distractions that exist on site. Cases like this one demonstrate the benefit of visits from a hands-on safety consultant with real building trades experience. Such invaluable support can be hired at reasonable rates from McCormack Benson Health & Safety – the construction safety specialists.