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Question: Is there a legal obligation to put guardrails in place along the top of a wall in a communal grass area?

Background: Our UK terraced property has some communal outdoor grass areas which lead to the top of a 2m walled drop down to the road. The wall has "battlements" (rocks extending periodically from the top), but is very low if approached from above, along the grass areas. A reckless person could potentially fall to the road from the top; however:

(a) there are no paths leading through these grass areas towards the wall-drops

(b) these grass areas are out-of-the-way: the designated paths pass down handrailed stairs, next to the wall-drops, or across them at a distance of about 5m from the top of the wall-drops

(c) there have been no accidents, RIDDOR reports, etc. in the 17 years the property has existed in its present form related to these wall-drops

(d) the grass areas are intended as decorative areas, not for traversal

(e) there are neighbouring children who pass by occasionally

Situation: There are two of these wall-drops. A recent ill-advised management decision removed bushes which were near these wall-drops. These bushes prevented access to one of the wall drops; the other was unguarded. Now the management is considering placing railings, at considerable expense, along the tops of the walls and around the grass areas because of "health and safety". Are such railings a legal obligation? Is anything required, or would "Keep off the grass" signage be sufficient? Would bushes identical to what was there before (blocking access to one wall-drop only) be sufficient?

Other research: My own research has uncovered two similar case studies on the HSE webpage, under the mythbusting section:

(a) A 25-year-old pond (comparable age) did not need railings

(b) A very similar situation had railings as a "sensible approach" but recommended further discussion to find alternatives

  • Would planting new bushes be cheaper than the guard rails? – gnasher729 Feb 4 '18 at 14:34
  • The pond is not really comparable. If you fall in a pond, you will probably only get wet; if you fall off a 2m wall, you will probably hurt yourself (somewhere between twisted ankle and broken leg). Obviously both have the possibility of "broken skull", but it's much more likely with the wall (for completeness, the pond has the risk of drowning, but it's not that high). – Martin Bonner supports Monica Mar 5 '18 at 14:48
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The relevant law is the Occupiers Liability Act - unless you are employing people (which may be the case if you are contracting work e.g. the gardening) "health and safety" law is not applicable.

[T]he occupier extend a "common duty of care" to all lawful visitors, although it keeps the low duty of care towards unlawful visitors such as trespassers. This duty is described as "a duty to take such care as in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which he is invited or permitted by the occupier to be there".

You have foreseen a risk that someone could fall off the edge of a lawn where a lawful visitor is not prevented from going. You need to take reasonable precautions to mitigate that risk. A fence seems reasonable to me.

  • Do you reckon the fact that it has not been seen as a necessity/considered for 17 years make any difference to whether a fence is required? It is a converted property, and when converted to housing just before 2000, no fencing was placed by the building contractors. There have been no building or landscape changes in that time, save for bush removal in May 2017. (PS. Thanks for the reply) – Darth Agnon Jan 4 '18 at 18:50
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    @DarthAgnon irrelevant- the hazard has now been identified. Why would it matter when it was identified? – Dale M Jan 4 '18 at 19:55

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