Building Code for Handrails
Handrails are required to balconies, decks, stairs or raised areas where a person can fall and suffer injuries. The Building Code requires a handrail to be installed where the upper level is higher than 1.0m above a lower level.
Handrails can be constructed of many materials, but the requirements are for the correct height and suitable restraint. Previous approvals were 825mm, but this has been found to be insufficient and there are several recent cased of people falling from balconies.
The concern there is in multi-storey buildings where a person can fall several storeys. The height was later raised to 950mm, but this was found to be inadequate. The minimum handrail height is currently 1.0m. Current Occupational Health and Safety requirements have made it a required to replace handrails to meet current standards to comply with insurance conditions and the responsibility of the executive of the Owner’s Corporation who has liabilities if major injuries occur to occupants or visitors.
Glass handrails are very popular particularly where a scenic view exists or where people wish to view a whole area.
The glass must meet the Glazing Code and 2 types are available. They are laminated, or toughened glass. Laminated glass consists of 2 layers of glass laminated together with a plastic film.
If the glass is not sealed at the edges, or water entry occurs, the glass will delaminate at the edges which results in white milky discolouration.
If a film is applied to one side of laminated glass to a handrail, window or roof, then this will result in a different heat build-up in the two layers of glass. This can result in cracking or crazing of glass to one side of the laminated material.
Previously glass was adequate as a secured restraint, but it was found that the glass could shatter on impact leaving a person on a high-rise balcony with no restraint.
Toughened glass is the preferred glass for handrails as it is not affected by delamination.
The current standard is that a top railing is required to the glass panels. This not only protects the top edge of the glass from damage, but also acts as a handrail if one glass panel is broken.
Timber handrails have been in place for a long time.
The defects that can occur include inadequate rail fixings where the timbers can easily dislodge when pushed and do not meet the impact requirements. Another defect is inadequate fixings of the posts where the handrail deflects or moves and does not provide an adequate restraint. The last issue with timber is deterioration over time, possibly due to lack of maintenance. All handrails must be maintained in an acceptable condition to reduce the risk of injuries including for children.