Can Trespassers Gain Access to Your Site and in Doing So, Are They at Risk of Injury?

The HSE is not the only regulator which can bring its powers to bear on businesses that do not manage to ensure safety in regard of their activities. The Environment Agency (EA), the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Office for Rail and Road (ORR) are some of the most well-known.

An area of safety that is often overlooked as it does not concern employees and often occurs when the site is closed or being run with minimum staff, is stopping unauthorised access to the site or trespass. Many companies take action to stop loss or prevent arson but do not look at their sites and think – what could cause harm to an intruder.

Often it is children who bear the brunt of the cost where trespass is concerned, they are often focussed on such mundane situations like retrieving their ball or looking for somewhere to play and do not always understand the reasons barriers are placed in their way and or any hazards presented by a site.

Whilst construction sites with half built buildings, available building materials, open excavations, scaffolding, or plant are required to enclose themselves and restrict access to hazardous areas, i.e., cover excavations, remove access points to scaffolding and manage their plant. Other sites which are just as likely to present a lure to children are still not managing the hazards posed by their activities sufficiently. Such a site is a railway terminus.

Despite campaigns run by various bodies connected to the rail industry, the following instances  demonstrate that the site owners / managers must ensure that the sites they are responsible for cannot be accessed  or the risk of harm is  reduced as  far as  is  reasonably practicable, as they are not safe places to play.

In 2019, following an incident in 2014 a freight company was fined 2.7 million following an incident in which a 13-year-old boy suffered life-changing injuries after receiving an electric shock in a rail yard.  Four children (eleven and thirteen-year-old boys and two thirteen-year-old girls) gained access to the railway yard, climbed onto a wagon and whilst on it one of the boys came into contact with the live cable overhead carrying 25,000-volts.

The investigation by the ORR determined that trespassers often came onto the site as a disused signal box had the reputation of being  “haunted” and that the yard operator had failed to ensure that non employees were not exposed to risk arising from the business’s activities.

Earlier this year a company was fined £135,000 after a 13-year-old boy was left with serious injures following an electric shock. They had failed to maintain and where necessary improve the fencing of the site. This contributed to the incident which occurred in 2016 as it allowed access to the site to a  group of teenagers, one of whom climbed onto a wagon stopped by a set of signals, allowing him to get close to the 25,000-volt overhead cable where he received an electric shock.

The ORR’s investigation determined that trespass was known to occur and that due to the state of the fencing such unauthorised access was a straightforward matter.  Despite efforts taken to raise awareness of hazards and limit the number of trespassers overall, in this case it had failed to maintain an adequate boundary or stop people getting into the yard.

Most recently a railway terminal operator has been fined £6.5 million after being found guilty of negligence after the death of an 11-year-old boy in 2017. The incident occurred when the young boy gained access to the depot with his friends to retrieve a football and was able to climb on top of a stationary freight wagon, where he received a fatal electric shock from the overhead line.

The company was found guilty of two offences, failing to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment were not exposed to risks to their health and safety through the conduct of their undertaking and failing to undertake a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to persons not in their employment.

In essence they failed to stop unauthorised access to the site by managing their boundary properly and by being in the habit of parking wagons in sidings with electric overhead cables instead of sidings without, allowed access to be gained to the vicinity of the live overhead cables  which were powered by 25,000 volts where it otherwise could not be gained.

Regardless of your companies’ activities, if your site can be easily accessed, whether it is open or not and whether there are hazards within its boundary which could injure or cause a fatality to a trespasser, then this safety alert is for you. Consider, do you have:

  • A damaged, inefficient boundary fence, or even no boundary fence at all
  • Missing or unreadable warning signage regarding specific known hazards
  • Vehicles or plant / FLT’s on site with easily accessed keys
  • Fragile surfaces on roofs that can be fallen through
  • Construction work being conducted on site
  • Scaffolding erected on the site
  • Excavations or changes in height that could, if someone fell, be the cause of a serious injury
  • Deep water, whether through design or circumstance
  • Live overhead power cables, or high voltage equipment on site
  • External access to fuel (including gas bottles)

If you have any of the above, or any other hazard which could cause a trespasser an injury or worse, then ensure the site risk assessment has a section regarding unauthorised access and that the hazards are given the consideration needed to ensure the relevant control measures, i.e.:

  • Installed and working alarms / installed and monitored CCTV
  • Suitable and sufficient boundary fencing provided, regular boundary fencing inspections and timely maintenance and repair of boundary fencing occurs
  • Closing down checks carried out regarding the site ensuring all windows are closed, all doors / gates are locked and
  • Methods of accessing hazardous areas or equipment are removed or sufficiently managed

Demonstrate that suitable and sufficient controls are in place and monitored. It is also important that warning signs are posted to warn of hazards such as fragile roofs, deep water or water in excavations etc.

If this alert has raised questions or you need to discuss any other health & safety related issue do not hesitate to contact your health & safety consultant or the main office for advice / assistance.