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CROSS Safety Report

Corrosion of heritage railing leads to a fall and a near miss

Report ID: 1278 Published: 28 May 2024 Region: CROSS-UK


Overview

A severely corroded railing on a seaside promenade gave way and a member of the public fell four metres onto the beach below.

Key Learning Outcomes

For inspectors:

  • Defects may be difficult to identify and load testing may be appropriate

For owners:

  • Consider instigating an inspection regime that may need to include load testing
  • Consider adopting temporary barriers behind the balustrade and stewarding to avoid any direct loading on the balustrade from audiences during events

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A reporter describes how a member of the public was leaning on the iron railings along the promenade at a seaside town when a section gave way, causing them to fall four metres onto the beach. This incident was doubly a near miss as another member of the public below was almost struck by the person and the falling railing.

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Figure 1: Collapsed section of balustrade

Figure 1 above shows the collapsed section of balustrade on the beach as found by the reporter.

The railing was found to be severely corroded and looked as if it had not been inspected or painted for some time. It is thought that the railings may be a heritage asset, which has prevented or complicated repair or replacement. Similar levels of corrosion and cracking were seen on the railings along the promenade, and this represents a potentially fatal hazard for both members of the public walking along this popular tourist site and those lying on the beach below.

Figures 2 and 3 show details of the corroded sections.

 

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Figure 2: Fractured balustrade
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Figure 3: Corroded remaining balustrade

Asset owners should have a maintenance plan in place for high risk assets, like iron safety railings in a coastal environment, and there must be better measures in place to ensure this plan is followed through, particularly if they are also heritage assets.

Expert Panel Comments

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An Expert Panel 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-US Expert Panel page.

Balustrades are a safety critical asset. Cast iron balustrading in a marine environment can present significant problems due to accelerated corrosion and its brittle nature. It often cracks at the base and the defect may remain undetected for a considerable time.

CROSS is aware of a balustrade that collapsed where five of the seven posts were fractured for some time before the incident. Repairs had been attempted to some, but not all the fractures. If the defect is seen, the specialist nature of weld repairs to cast iron means that those capable of undertaking the repair are difficult to find, which increases the risk of poor quality repairs.

an inspection regime may require an element of testing to give confidence that the balustrade remains adequate

The reporter describes the railings as 'heritage assets' but it is not stated whether they are listed (or afforded some other form of heritage protection). In any event, this should not be allowed to delay their repair and thus compromise their stability.  Their safety critical function, the brittle nature of their material and of the failure, and the presence of corrosion on the failure surfaces (indicating the cracks had been present for considerable time) further highlights the need for a comprehensive inspection and repair regime.

Given the nature of the defects and the difficulty in identifying them, an inspection regime may require an element of testing to give confidence that the balustrade remains adequate.

If a comprehensive inspection regime is not in place, then it might be sensible to consider controlling the risk by providing temporary barriers

If public events are held on the beach, for example concerts, fireworks celebrations or aerial displays, there are likely to be people wishing to view them from the promenade, increasing the risk to the public. If a comprehensive inspection regime is not in place, then it might be sensible to consider controlling the risk by providing temporary barriers some distance from the balustrade with stewards to prevent the audience from approaching it and potentially overloading it laterally.

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