Most of us walk up and down stairs at home without a second thought and often without holding the handrail. It’s a personal choice to hold the handrail or not. However, for some when you are at work it is no longer a personal choice but a health and safety rule. You must hold the handrail and in many organisations you are expected to politely ask visitors to do so. This is justified on the basis that trips/slips and falls are the most common sources of workplace injuries accounting for 40% of serious injuries. For managers it is about managing risk and reducing costs.
Risk is the probability of something happening multiplied by the consequences when it does happen. Many of us subconsciously calculate risk when we make decisions in everyday life. The consequences of the aircraft crashing on the way to your holiday destination is very serious, if not fatal, but the probability is extremely small so that overall the risk is acceptably low. We make lots of risk assessments in our personal life but as soon as an organisation gets involved and feels that it might be liable for the consequences then our freedom of choice is eroded quickly. Hence, the instruction to hold the handrail on the stairs. However, the equation is changed when the cost of reducing the risk involved in an essential or profitable activity is too high or perceived to be so. A simple example would be being free to stand on a platform within half a metre of a passing express train. It would be too expensive and probably impractical to install railings or remove everyone from the platform. However, at least we have platforms and are not allowed to wander around on the track; that would be really dangerous with both a high probability of being hit and fatal consequences as the Liverpool MP William Huskisson found out at the inauguration of the first scheduled passenger train service on September 15, 1830. When the train stopped on the way from Liverpool to Manchester, he got out and walked down the track to the Prime Minister who was in the next carriage to enthuse about the service and he was killed by the train going the other way. There are easier ways to get a street named after you, not to mention a town in Australia!
Source: http://www.workplacesafetyadvice.co.uk/common-injuriescauses-accidents-work.html. BTW – according to this website, the finance is the safest sector in which to work and agriculture the most dangerous sector.