Rise in anti-climb parapets protects against two leading causes of death

The demand for anti-climb bridge and pedestrian parapets has increased considerably in recent years, helping to protect the UK public from two leading causes of death. Over the last year, Varley and Gulliver Parapets has seen an increase of up to 20% in the installation of anti-climb parapets across the UK, compared with 2021.

On bridges, 1.8-metre high steel or aluminium parapets have become a popular choice for highway authorities, as they not only provide vehicle containment, but they also prevent pedestrians from climbing on them and falling onto the carriageway below. And for footbridges and stairways, steel pedestrian parapets, up to 2.1 metres high, are installed specifically to protect people on foot from climbing or falling from height.

These systems address two equally important areas of public concern – road casualty reduction and suicide prevention. In 2021 alone, 5,583 suicides were registered in England and Wales and in the same period, 1608 people were killed in collisions on the UK’s roads. Both causes of death, although different in nature, have devastating consequences. Additionally, both causes are sudden, avoidable and cause immeasurable suffering for the victims’ loved ones and their communities.

Stacy Willis, Solutions Manager at Varley and Gulliver, said:

“More and more of our anti-climb parapets are being installed across the country as a means of keeping all road users safe. We’re hopeful that they will help to reduce two leading causes of death in the UK which cause immense suffering for so many people.”

The ripple-effect of suicides and road deaths affects many hundreds of thousands of people in the UK every year. An increase in anti-climb parapets on the road network will not only help to prevent future incidents, but it will make members of the public to feel safer in their surroundings.

Bridge and pedestrian parapets play an important role in helping National Highways to achieve two main safety objectives:

– By 2040, its aim is for no one to be killed or seriously injured while travelling on or working on its network.
– It’s vision is that no one attempts to take their life on its roads.

The history of parapets

2.1 meter high pedestrian parapet
2.1 meter high pedestrian parapet

Anti-climb parapets and fences have been used around the globe for decades to protect against suicide, and feature heavily in the Public Health England document – ‘Preventing suicides in public places: A practice resource.’ The document states that the most effective form of suicide prevention at bridges is ‘a physical barrier, which restricts access to the drop. This can take the form of fencing or netting, and is supported by strong research evidence from around the world.’

In road casualty reduction terms, CD 377 ‘The Design Manual for Roads and Bridges’ states:

“Vehicle parapets shall be provided on bridges and structures where a safety risk assessment determines that there is a risk of a vehicle falling over a vertical or near vertical drop that is not protected by a safety barrier or other suitable restraint.”

The science behind parapets

1.8 meter high steel parapet
1.8 meter high steel parapet

To comply with CD 377, bridge parapets must be approved to withstand a vehicle impact; the size of the test vehicle and speed will determine the containment level obtained. For example, an N2 parapet is designed to withstand a 1500kg vehicle travelling at 110kph in accordance with BS EN1317.

All current bridge parapets tested to BS EN1317 are also required to carry out a small 900kg vehicle test, to ensure the vehicle’s occupants do not sustain serious injury or death during a collision with a parapet. Measurements are taken from crash test dummies inside the vehicles and the Acceleration Severity Index (ASI) and Theoretical Head Impact Velocity (THIV) are determined. A level of either A,B or C is confirmed depending on the results, with level A being the safest.

Current vehicle parapets are required to be CE Certified and have an infill type attached in accordance with CD 377; the infill type can be either mesh or solid. Additional items can also be attached to the parapets, such as steeple coping units to increase heights or anti-access units to prevent access to the rear of the systems.

The CD 377 manual also states that ‘all footbridges, cycleways and bridleway bridges shall be provided with a pedestrian parapet.’ Additionally, pedestrian systems have to meet certain criteria outlined in BS7818 and Eurocode specifications. They are then calculated to withstand a Newtons per metre (N/m) loading, depending on the type of pedestrian parapet or pedestrian guardrail. For example, a standard 1.15-metre-high P4 pedestrian parapet is designed to withstand a 1400 N/m loading, and a one-metre-high pedestrian guardrail is designed to withstand 700 N/m loading.

Industry experts

For the last 60 years, Varley and Gulliver’s products have played a vital role in minimising the risk of road collisions and reducing the impact in the event of a crash. The company’s products have been installed across the globe, including pedestrian parapets at the iconic Sheikh Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi, where the rails were designed to resemble aeroplane wings, the Erskine Bridge in Scotland and at the Sitra Causeway in Bahrain.

Varley and Gulliver is part of Hill and Smith Infrastructure, a business group also consisting of Hardstaff Barriers, Asset VRS and Hill & Smith Barriers. With the different vehicle restraint system (VRS) disciplines working together, the group provides end-to-end VRS solutions, compatible with each other, and meeting the requirements of CD 377.