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How to ensure your balustrade installation is up to code according to UK regulations

Photo shows a woman leaning on a balustradeWhen installing balustrades in either a commercial, public or domestic building, there are a few regulations that must be recognised for the health and safety of the people in the building. We have taken information from the UK Government’s Protection from falling, collision and impact document to help you ensure that your balustrades are up to code.

Is there a height restriction?

The legal requirement for the height of a balustrade varies depending on whether it is installed in a commercial or domestic building and whether the installation is internal or external. The required height of the balustrade is measured from the point at which you stand (also referred to as the datum) to the top of the handrail.

When installing a balustrade inside public or commercial buildings and domestic properties the staircase’s handrail must meet the height of 0.9 metres while the minimum acceptable height for landing balustrades is 1.1 metres. If you are planning to install the balustrades on balconies or external spaces, the required height should also be 1.1 metres from the datum.

Are there certain materials that are not permitted?

With regards to materials used for the balustrades, there are no particular types that are prohibited according to UK regulations. The most common material tends to be metallic such as stainless steel or aluminium. Wood is another commonly used material for balustrades, however maintenance is a factor to take into account when choosing wooden balustrades.

Regulations do require that the materials used for the balustrades must be sturdy and rigid – able to withstand pressure without the material bending or buckling.

What happens if I want to use glass?

There are two types of safety glass that should be used: toughened glass (also known as tempered glass) or laminated glass. Toughened glass is heated to around 700ºC before it is rapidly cooled, or quenched. The quenching procedure only takes about one minute, however it creates a strong outer layer on the glass as well as locking tension inside the core of the glass.

Laminated glass is inherently strong and is made of at least two glass panels and an interlayer (which is usually resin based or made of plastic). Laminated glass can be constructed of either two float panels, two toughened panels or a combination of both.

For the glass to be regarded as safe it must pass an impact test. A breakage could be considered safe if the glass meets the following descriptions:

a. Breaks with a small clear opening and detached particles no larger than the specified maximum size.

b. Disintegration into mall detached particles.

c. Broken glazing in separate pieces that is not sharp.

How much weight must the balustrade and handrail withstand?

The weight or load that the balustrades must withstand is measured in kN/m (kiloNewton metre). There are three loads that are required to be measured: horizontal loading on the handrail, vertical loading on the handrail and loading on the infill.

The infill must be tested in both a distributed load and a point load. This means that the infill must be able to endure an evenly distributed weight as well as concentrated pressure on one small point.

Domestic balustrades and handrails must be able to withstand 0.36kN/m and external balconies must be able to take 0.74kN/m. Public areas such as bars and restaurants have to take 1.5kN/m while larger public buildings with larger traffic such as shopping centres and nightclubs must be able to withstand 3.0kN/m.


Author bio

Andy Rutter is the owner of Steel and Glass Balustrades, the UK’s leading supplier and fitter of domestic and commercial balustrades.

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