This article explains and illustrate the requirements for safe, useable hand railings on steps and stairs, both interior and exterior stairways. Handrailings are a critical safety feature on outdoor and indoor stairs, and ramps, as are guardrails along landings, platforms, decks, porches, and similar structures. Handrailing graspability: the handrailing size, total perimeter, shape, and surface characteristics.
Some of the fall injury cases we've investigated involved a combination of unsafe stairs and a fall that was made worse when the individual who lost their balance tried to grasp an unsafe handrail.It's easy to be confused about the difference between handrails, stair rails and guardrails and their different uses, codes, and designs.
Above and just below our photographs illustrate a properly designed & installed graspable stair railing or handrail. Above is a photograph taken from the under-side of the handrail showing that when the railing is of a proper dimension and profile the hand can make a secure grasp with thumb and fingers. A handrail is a horizontal or sloping rail intended for grasping by the hand for guidance or support. In our photo above, large-diameter top of the stair guardrail (red arrow) would not be graspable by someone losing their balance or beginning a fall. A guardrail is a safety railing or barrier located along a horizontal surface such as a balcony, deck, or porch. A stair rail or stair guard is a safety railing or barrier located along the open side(s) of a stairway.
Temporary handrailings and guardrailings are also regulated in the workplace or jobsite, though not in private residences. Our photo above illustrates a makeshift temporary railing that the author (DF) installed using a woodworking clamp and steel piping. The final authority on when and where railings are required on steps, stairs, landings, balconies and decks, rests with your local building code official.
The building code requirement for stair railings typically requires handrailings on stairs that have a total rise of three feet or more.
As we stated more succinctly at the top of this article, guard railings should be continuous, but the railing can stop or be interrupted at a newell post or return at the railing ends at the bottom or top of the stairs. See GUARDRAILS on BALCONIES, DECKS, LANDINGS where we describe details about railings on landings and open hallways or other horizontal walking surfaces.
However it's up to the local building officials to interpret the building codes and to tell you what they require. Our photo (at left) shows a common but unsafe lower floor or basement stair condition in an older home.
This stair is missing both handrailings and a stair rail or stair guard along the stair open side. To make it possible to move large furniture or other objects between floors someone has removed the handrail and balusters that were originally installed on the open side of this stairway. Details about the codes for and construction of properly graspable handrails are at GRASPABILITY of HANDRAILINGS.
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ACTS also will not accept money or take advertising in our publications from manufacturers of artists materials or businesses whose interests could conflict with ours. Our recommended books about building & mechanical systems design, inspection, problem diagnosis, and repair, and about indoor environment and IAQ testing, diagnosis, and cleanup are at the InspectAPedia Bookstore. The Illustrated Home illustrates construction details and building components, a reference for owners & inspectors. Local Marketing Improve your online visibility—Learn the fundamentals of local SEO, search ranking factors, location data management, and managing online reviews.
When an employee faces the risk of electric shock that is not reduced to a safe level by engineering controls. Employees that are exposed to airborne concentrations of asbestos at or above the PEL limit shall be trained. When there is a change in the workplace or the employer has reason to believe that a trained employee does not have the understanding and skill necessary to perform the job safely.
Employees that are required to use ladders or stairways should be trained on the hazards associated with their usage. Provide retraining so that the employee maintains the understanding and knowledge acquired from the training.
Employees that are exposed to noise at or above an 8-hour time weighted average of 85 decibels.
When fire extinguishers exist in the workplace, the employer should train employees on their usage. Retraining required when the type of PPE changes, employee demonstrates inability to use PPE properly, or when the workplace changes in a way that renders previous training obsolete. This is not a particularly easy rail to grasp if one is falling down the slippery brick stairs. Handrails or railings are sometimes chosen for their creative or aesthetic appeal such as the handrail shown at above left. In several building codes including the 2006 IRC Section R202 these terms are defined clearly. The hand and fingers can also pass around the stair handrailing bracket as the user walks down the steps in this buildings.
That is, if the railing is intended to be able to be grasped to help protect against a fall, it is called a handrail regardless of where it is installed. Before the smaller-diameter handrailing in the photo above was installed, my younger daughter fell down these stairs, unable to arrest her fall by trying to grab onto the very large diameter guardrail top that at the time also served as a handrailing. Certainly the stairway that we observed in La Huerta, Mexico (photo at left) as well as the rooftop deck do not meet current safety standards.
Since stair falls are one of the most common injury hazards in buildings it's worth a call to your local building department for an answer to your question.
We are sure that a stair rail was originally in place because we see the bottom newell post in our photo.

If the stair is more than three feet wide (probably it's not), and for all stairs in some jurisdictions, a handrail may also be required along the wall. The Horizon system runs on always-available cloud-based software for office computers, laptops, tablets, iPad, Android, & other smartphones. A part of the fees from our consulting services goes to support our free and low-cost services for artists. We want artists to know that we have no financial incentive to make our product and safety recommendations. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. But between floors, depending on landing conditions, railings may be interrupted by doors, floors, etc. Our stair rail photo (above left) is from a stairwell that we just completed at a home in New York (courtesy of Eric Galow Homes, Lagrangeville, New York).Stairways that end at a landing surrounded by walls or at a building floor are likely to have their handrails stop too at each level.
Let us know if your local building inspector agrees that railings should indeed be continuous. We gratefully accept donations, but do not solicit them from the artists who call here for help and advice. Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Of course if your landing also has handrails (as would be required at least on a landing that had an open side (that is, no building wall), then we'd expect the stair rail to connect to the landing or balcony railing except where interrupted say by a doorway or an open floor on that level.What I mean to say is that there may be practical reasons for a railing to change sides from one stairwell to another in a building. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Galow specializes in residential construction including both new homes and repairs, renovations, and additions.
Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. In the stairwell shown above, safest would have been a stair railing on both sides of the stairway but we didn't want to give up the passage space to a second rail. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides extensive home inspection education and report writing material.
The building department accepted a continuous handrail with returns on the left side of the stair as shown. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference eBook purchased as a single order.

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