Handrails for stairways, raised platform walkways and other paths above ground-level are important infrastructure for employees and members of the general public. When designed and installed carefully and correctly, handrails reduce the possibility of falls that could cause serious injury.
The basics of handrail standards and when they apply
There are a number of regulations related to the design and placement of handrails in permanent structures, and those rules vary based on the intended use of this safety system.
Australian Standard 1170.1 is used in situations where the public has access to a stairwell, elevated walkway, ramp, balcony or similar area. The specific rules vary greatly depending on the situation, for instance, a rail in a theatre has stricter standards than a rail used in a private home.
AS 1657, meanwhile, is used for areas such as machinery rooms, boiler rooms and similar applications. The most important distinction is that this standard applies to areas where the public isn't allowed to enter. Businesses operating industrial facilities and similar buildings that only trained workers can access should follow this set of regulations. It assumes that personnel are using platform walkways, mezzanines and related structures where hand railings are required.
The good news for industrial businesses: Visitors to facilities are usually quite limited, and generally don't need to be taken on platform walkways or areas where a hand railing or barrier is required. AS 1657 assumes that personnel are trained and understand core safety concerns, which means the rules are more straightforward.
What are the height regulations for a handrail?
Handrails in industrial settings must reach a defined height range under the guidance of AS 1657, for the purpose of offering fall protection to workers who may slip, trip or stumble at dangerous heights. The standard specifies that the top of the guardrail, which is the highest vertical point of the handrail structure, must stand between 900mm-1,100mm from the top of the walkway or platform. In instances where guardrails are used on staircases, the nosing height is the reference point. Nosing refers to the end of the stair tread, the lip or protrusion that extends horizontally from the top surface of each stair, which is intended to provide additional surface area in a highly trafficked portion of the stairs and reduce potential accidents.
While the required height is provided as a range, allowing for some flexibility to implement the safest solution for a given facility's specific needs, it's important to note that the rail needs to remain at a consistent elevation parallel to the floor. It can't start at 900mm at one end of the platform or ramp and increase to 1,100mm at the other end. The same is true of staircases, which are also covered by AS 1657, as the rail should remain at a specific height relative to the nosing line from top to bottom.
The guardrail is not the only rail component of these safety systems that AS 1657 regulates. Intermediate rails, which sit between the guardrail and the walkway, platform or stairs, are also required and regulated. The top of this rail should be installed at a maximum of 450mm from the bottom of the guardrail. When it comes to height from the walkway surface, there is also a 450mm maximum. However, this distance is measured between the top of the toeboard or kickplate when one is present. In cases where a toeboard isn't necessary, the maximum distance between the base and the bottom of the intermediate rail is 560mm at most.
AS 1657 specifies that toeboards themselves must be used if there is a distance of 10mm or greater between the platform or walkway and another nearby permanent structure. Toeboards require a minimum height of 100mm from the top of the platform or nosing line, although a gap of up to 10mm is allowed between the toeboard and the walkway, specifically from the top of the base to the underside of the toeboard.
How do you measure the height of a handrail?
Guardrail height is always calculated from the top of the flat underlying structure, or the nosing line of the staircase, to the top of the guardrail. For an intermediate rail, height is measured from the top of the underlying structure or toeboard to the bottom of the rail. Similarly, the top of the intermediate rail and bottom of the guardrail are used when measuring the maximum allowable distance between the two.
Are there any special considerations to make around the use of handrails?
The top rail or guardrail is vital because it helps to reduce the chances of an employee falling over the side of a stairway, platform or walkway. It also serves as a handhold for workers standing on or crossing these structures, providing greater stability and further reducing risk. To make use of the top rail as a handrail safe and simple, AS 1657 requires that handrails allow for simple access, with clearance of at least 50mm from another structure or rail. Additionally, the top rail must be free of any features that could cause injury when used, such as points and sharp edges.
Handrails should be continuous across the stairway, elevated platform or walkway to provide the highest level of safety and align with regulatory expectations.
When do stairs require a handrail?
Stairways are similar to walkways and platforms in terms of when handrails and guardrails are required. Unless there is a permanent structure within 100mm of the stairway, guardrails are needed. Handrails or top rails are always required, and must be placed on both sides of the stairway if it has a total width of 1,000m or more.
Finding a partner that supports your compliance and safety needs
Compliance with safety standards helps your company address two vital needs: keeping employees safe while on the job and avoiding liability related to deficient safety measures. With compliant and effective handrails, platforms, walkways and stairs in place, your business can focus on its core business needs. Finding the right partner to supply these materials is, therefore, an especially important decision.
At Webforge, we offer the MonowillsTM safety barrier system, a compliant and effective solution for addressing your responsibilities under AS 1657 with respect to guardrails and handrails for stairways, platforms, walkways and similar structures. Our Monowills Link solution provides a readily available, easily assembled guardrail that our team can help ensure complies with regulations. To learn more, get in touch with the team at Webforge today.