Staircase handrails at work - what is suitable and sufficient under regulations?

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I was interested to read the decision given by the Court of Appeal in the case of Broadfield v Meyrick Estate Management Limited.

In this case Ms B worked in an office on the first floor of an old cottage. A long staircase led up the landing where there was a sharp turn right and then two further steps up to the office where she worked. There was a handrail to the right but it did not cover the last two steps.

One lunchtime she missed her footing and tripped and fell onto the landing and then continued to fall down the long straight staircase resulting in injury.

She brought a claim alleging breach of Regulation 12(5) of the above Regulation which states:

" suitable and sufficient handrails shall be provided on all traffic routes which are staircases except in circumstances in which a handrail cannot be provided without obstructing the traffic route "

This duty is a strict duty which means if handrails are not provided in the above circumstances the Defendant will be found at fault.

At first instance the Judge found that the handrail along the straight  stretch was sufficient and that the statutory exception applied to the two top steps ie. it could not be fitted without obstructing the traffic route. He then found even if there had been a handrail that the Ms B would not have been able to use it and also dismissed the case on causation.

Ms B appealed.  She relied on HSE workplace guidance, HSE approved Code of Practice and modern building regulations to support her case that a handrail could only be suitable and sufficient if it was available along the whole length of the staircase.

The Defendant argued that what constituted suitable and sufficient was dependant on the type of staircase and the manner in which it was use.

The Court of Appeal found that the staircase rail was insufficient and that the statutory exception did not apply. However ultimately her case failed after the Judge heard evidence from Ms B direct. The Court found that even if there was a handrail that Ms B would have not have been in a position to use it when she fell.

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