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CROSS Safety Report

Polyethylene pipework handrails

Report ID: 373 Published: 1 October 2013 Region: CROSS-UK

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A reporter raises concerns about the use of polyethylene pipework being used as handrails on sites.

Key Learning Outcomes

For the construction team:

  • Consider appointing a competent temporary works coordinator (TWC) on site who should be able to ensure all temporary works such as edge protection are carefully considered and planned

Full Report

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The Full Report below has been submitted to CROSS and describes the reporter’s experience. The text has been edited for clarity and to ensure anonymity and confidentiality by removing any identifiable details. If you would like to know more about our secure reporting process or submit a report yourself, please visit the reporting to CROSS-UK page.


A reporter has seen handrails for edge protection being provided using polyethylene (PE) pipework. One instance was on a site where the handrail has been used on an access platform fixed to formwork (Figure 1). Other defects were also apparent on this platform, such as the lack of toe boards, excessive gap between rails etc.

Figure 1: polyethylene pipework handrails

However, it is the principle of providing the rails in PE that the reporter is particularly concerned with. They suspect that the driver for using the PE in this instance was to reduce the weight of the shutter when being lifted into position as well as the cost saving and possible difficulties with achieving the radius profile required.

However, given the reduced robustness of the PE in comparison with say a standard scaffold tube and the consequences of a failure of such a system (on this example a fall of 6-7m) they are of the opinion that this design should be raised as CROSS report. They have also recently been asked to produce a design for another contractor for this type of system, which they have declined on the basis that the design risk assessment would render the system unworkable.

Their firm highlighted issues such as thermal effects, UV stability of the handrail, accidental damage, restrictions on the type of work that could be carried out in the area being protected (no cutting etc.), deflection, plastic deformation, damage due to over tightening at clamp positions and other issues. This appears to be evidence of a more widespread adoption of this type of handrail system in the construction industry.

Expert Panel Comments

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Expert Panels comment on the reports we receive. They use their experience to help you understand what can be learned from the reports. If you would like to know more, please visit the CROSS-UK Expert Panels page.

There are many types of plastic pipes and the properties of these pipes are not known. Here the concern is that the handrail construction does not meet either strength requirements or operational good practice. The application is certainly unusual and it is not known to the CROSS panel if such pipes comply with the usual standards for safety rails.

Care should certainly be taken when using products for any situation beyond their normal design use and the risks stated by the reporter are very real. Handrail products may be advertised as having ‘plastic rails’ but these are plastic coated steel sections.

Guidance for temporary and permanent edge protection is given in the following references but care is needed when specifying a product for a particular application such as acknowledging the difference between prevention of access to an area of danger rather than preventing a fall from height.

  • BS 6180 Protective Barriers in and About Buildings 1999

  • The Building Regulations Part K 2000

  • BS 6399 Part 1 Loading for Building

  • BS 6399 Part 2 Code of Practice for Wind Loading 1997

  • Health & Safety in Roofwork 2008

  • BS EN 13374 Temporary Edge Protection Systems

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