Balustrading is frequently used to create a protective barrier along stairways and ledges, around pools and decking, as well as across the front of balconies. In some cases, the balustrading needs to have a handrail, but in others the handrail is unnecessary. So, when does a balustrade need a handrail?
This article answers that question, but before we look at regulations dealing specifically with handrails, let’s quickly review basic balustrading regulations. It is important to be familiar with these regulations because they affect handrails.
Basic balustrading regulations
Some of the minor points in balustrade regulations vary across Australia, but the following major points are basically the same in all Australian states and territories:
- A balustrade can be defined as a series of balusters that support a rail. A baluster can be posts, short columns or pillars.
- A balustrade or other barrier is mandatory whenever there is a difference of 1 meter or more between a floor and an adjoining surface.
- When a floor is more than 4 meters above the surface beneath it, the balustrade must be designed so that it does not facilitate climbing.
- Balustrades must have a height of at least 1 meter.
- Balustrades must not have openings large enough to allow a 125mm sphere to pass through at any point.
- Balustrading must be able to withstand loads and impacts as determined in AS/NZS 1170.1
Specific regulations for handrails on balustrading
Handrails provide guidance and support, as well as increase safety. Australian regulations require that all staircases have handrails unless there is a fixed structure within 10cm of the stairway. Residential staircases are only required to have one handrail, while all commercial staircases and residential staircases that are more than 1.2-meter wide need a handrail on both sides of the stairs.
Handrails are also recommended on any balustrading that is installed along handicap ramps with a slope of more than 150 mm. When handrails are installed on balustrading near handicap ramps, the handrails should always be parallel to the floor or ground surface.
All handrails should meet the following regulations:
- They must be positioned between 865 and 1000mm above the pitch line. The pitch line can be described as the imaginary line that runs along the leading edge or nosings of successive stairs.
- Handrails must be continuous on each flight of stairs, including risers and winders, but they do not need to be continuous on landings unless the handrail need to comply with Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) . DDA compliance information can be found in AS/NZS 1428.
- If the handrail is circular its external diameter needs to be between 30mm and 65mm but can be no larger than 50mm where DDA compliance is required
- If the handrail is square or rectangular, the sum of its height and width needs to be between 70 mm and 100mm. Rectangular handrails cannot be DDA Compliant.
- The handrail needs to have a minimum hand clearance of 50mm and allow for unrestricted movement of the user’s hand along its upper surface.
- A handrail should not have any sharp edges or other features that could injure the user.
In conclusion, balustrading needs to have a handrail when protecting a difference in height of more than 1000mm from the ground and one or two handrails when it is installed along a staircase. Handrails with special considerations for DDA Compliance are recommended along handicap ramps that have a slope of more than 150mm.