Ramp & ramp guardrails (C) Daniel Friedman 2013 Building Access Ramp Codes & Standards

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Building access ramp specifications & codes:

This document provides building code specifications addressing ramp construction, ramp safety and proper ramp railing and guardrail construction.

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Building Access Ramp Standards and Codes

Requirements for Guardrailings & Handrailings at Access Ramps

Unsafe ramp railing (C) Daniel Friedman

Add railings on your ramp: if the ramp crosses above a ditch, ravine, or is more than three feet from the ground at its highest point, a railing is likely to be required by local and national building codes.

[Click to enlarge any image]

Even for ramps that are just a few inches above the ground, railings improve ramp safety by providing additional visual clues about the ramp's slope as well as providing a grasping surface in case of a fall.

Our photo (left) shows the author's daughter (at left, ca. 1979) with a friend, demonstrating that this building access ramp was unsafe: a railing was provided only on one side despite the drop off, and the railing that the carpenters installed was both open (a child hazard), and used a horizontal mid-height member, easily climbed-on by a child (another child hazard).



A Comparison of Building Codes Specifying Hand Railing Requirements for Access Ramps

Ramp handraill extension requirements - Florida railing code 505.10.1

Railings in stair codes and specifications refer to the safety barrier along ramps as well as at steps or stairs, landings, and balconies.

Sample excerpts of sources which a building code compliance inspector would be expected to cite in support of requiring a properly-designed, properly-secured guard rail include but are not limited to the citations below.

International Building Code 2000 (BOCA, ICBO, SBCCI)

1003. Handrail grasp ability. Handrails with a circular cross section shall have an outside diameter of at least 1.25 inches (32 mm) and not greater than 2 inches (51 mm) or shall provide equivalent grasp ability.

If the handrail is not circular, it shall have a perimeter dimension of at least 4 inches (102 mm) and not greater than 6.25 inches (159 mm) with a maximum cross-section dimension of 2.25 inches (57 mm).

Edges [of th handrailing] shall have a minimum radius of 0.125 inch (3.2 mm).

100333.11.4 Continuity. Handrail-gripping surfaces shall be continuous, without interruption by newel posts or other obstructions.

Open guardrail Guadlajara (C) Daniel Friedmasn 2012

Our photo illustrates a high ramp crossing over a busy highway in Guadalajara, Mexico. The guardrail is continuous, probably has adequate strength, but lacks child-safe enclosing balusters.

1607.7 Loads on Handrails, guards, grab bars and vehicle barriers

1607.7.1.1 Concentrated Load. Handrail assemblies and guards shall be able to resist a single concentrated load of 200 pounds (0.89kN), applied in any direction at any point along the top, and have attachment devices and supporting structure to transfer this loading to appropriate structural elements of the building.

1607.7.1.2 Components. Intermediate rails (all those except the handrail), balusters and panel fillers shall be designed to withstand a horizontally applied normal load of 50 pounds (0.22 kN) on an area not to exceed one square foot (305mm2) including openings and space between rails.

Hard to grasp handrail along an access ramp (C) Daniel Friedman 2013

Is this access ramp handrailing (photo at left) actually graspable? Not very. All of the model building codes contain descriptions of graspable and non-graspable handrailings by dimension, shape, profile, support, obstructions and other parameters.


BOCA National Property Maintenance Code 1993: 

PM-305.5 Stairs and railings: all interior stairs and railings shall be maintained in sound condition and good repair.

Commentary: Handrails, treads and risers must be structurally sound, firmly attached to the structure, and properly maintained to perform their intended function safely.

During an inspection the code official should inspect all stringers, risers, treads, and handrails.

PM-305.6 Handrails and guards: Every handrail and guard shall be firmly fastened and capable of supporting normally imposed loads and shall be maintained in good condition.

Commentary: This section provides for the safety and maintenance of handrails and guards. See Section PM-702.9 for additional requirements.

PM-702.9 Stairways, handrails and guards: Every exterior and interior flight of stairs having more than four risers, and every open portion of a stair, landing or balcony which is more than 30 inches (762mm) high, nor more than 42 inches (1067mm) high, measured vertically above the nosing of the tread or above the finished floor of the landing or walking surfaces.

Guards shall be not less than 30 inches (762mm) high above the floor of the landing or balcony.

Commentary: Handrails are required on all stairs more than four risers in height. Handrails cannot be less than 30 inches nor more than 42 inches above the nosing of the treads (see Figure PM-702.9).

Guards are required on the open side of stairs and on landings and balconies which are more than 30 inches above the floor or grade below. The guard must be at least 30 inches above the floor of the landing or balcony.

Guards are to contain intermediate rails, balusters or other construction to reduce the chance of an adult or child from falling through the guard.

If the guard is missing some intermediate rails or balustrades, it is recommended that the guard be repaired to its original condition if it will provide protection equivalent to the protection it provided when originally constructed.

Florida Handrail & Guardrail Requirements & Codes for Access Ramps

Handrails shall be provided along both sides of a ramp run with a rise greater than 6 inches (152 mm) and shall conform to the requirements in Sections 1012.

If handrails are not continuous, they shall extend at least 18 inches (305 mm) beyond the top and bottom of the ramp segment and shall be parallel with the floor or ground surface.

Ends of handrails shall be either rounded or returned smoothly to floor, wall or post. Handrails shall not rotate within their fittings.

Top of the handrail gripping surface shall be not less than 34 inches (864 mm) nor more than 38 inches (965 mm) above the ramp surface. - Florida Building Code 1010.8 Handrails


1. Handrails are not required when the total ramp run rise is 6 inches (152 mm) or less and the horizontal projection is 72 inches or less, except where required to be accessible.

2. Aisles in Group A occupancies (see Section 1025).

3. NA
4. Handrails are not required on curb ramps
. - Florida Building Code 1010.8 Handrails

Guards shall be provided where required by Section 1013 and shall be constructed in accordance with Section 1013. - Florida Building Code 1010.10 Guards

505.10.1 Top and Bottom Extension at Ramps. Ramp handrails shall extend horizontally above the landing for 12 inches (305 mm) minimum beyond the top and bottom of ramp runs.

Extensions shall return to a wall, guard, or the landing surface, or shall be continuous to the handrail of an adjacent ramp run. - Florida Building Code 505.10.1


Requirements & Building Code Citations for Landing Platforms at Access Ramps

New building access ramp (C) Daniel Friedman

Landing platforms for ramps: Make sure the ramp is properly designed in width, structural support, and that it includes a landing both at the upper end at a building entry/exit door, and where required by local code or ground surface conditions, also provide a landing platform at the ramp's lower end.

As we mentioned at our page to photo, the step at this building access ramp entry reduced the ramp slope to less than 1:12 but it created an obstruction for wheelchair users.

While the landing platform assists the users of this access ramp, what we had specified was that the ramp bottom end terminate at grade, without a step. And this platform is probably too short in the direction of travel.

The "railings" along this ramp are not readily graspable, but as the ramp is nearly level, we considered them as a balcony railing not a handrail.

Ramp Landing requirement: Ramps shall have landings at the bottom and top of each ramp, points of turning, entrance, exits and at doors and in accordance with Section 11-4.8.4. Landings shall comply with Sections 1010.6.1 through 1010.6.5.  - Florida Building Code 1010.6 Landings.

Ramp Landing slope: Landings shall have a slope not steeper than one unit vertical in 50 units horizontal (2-percent slope) in any direction. Changes in level are not permitted. - Florida Building Code 1010.6.1 Landings.

Ramp Landing width: The landing shall be at least as wide as the widest ramp run adjoining the landing. - Florida Building Code 1010.6.2 Landings.

Question: what is the meaning of "accessible route of travel" and when is a 1:8 ramp slope acceptable?

(July 20, 2015) Rod Trebelcock said:

Our local code, UBC, 1003.3.4.3 starts with the maximum slope of 1:12 in "an accessible route of travel", other ramps can be 1:8. Can you give the meaning of " an accessible route of travel? And how is " other ramps " acceptable at 1:8. I am short on room.

Reply: definition of accessible route of travel and of acceptable ramp slopes


Thanks for your helpful question about the definition of an "accessible route of travel".

My understanding is contextual. In ADA and similar standards, the writers mean, by "accessible route of travel", a route or passage that is intended to be ADA compliant for use by wheelchairs.

Here is a quote from the actual ADA definition from the ADAAG

Accessible Route.

A continuous unobstructed path connecting all accessible elements and spaces of a building or facility. Interior accessible routes may include corridors, floors, ramps, elevators, lifts, and clear floor space at fixtures.

Exterior accessible routes may include parking access aisles, curb ramps, crosswalks at vehicular ways, walks, ramps, and lifts.

Watch out: In the UBC where the slopes you ask about are discussed, a wheelchair ramp pitched at a 1:8 slope (1" of rise in every 8" of horizontal run) is the maximum slope allowed (be careful in reading websites as some sites don't understand slope and call this the minimum but in my lexicon the steepest slope would be the maximum or steepest slope allowed) - this isn't a recommended slope.

The recommended maximum slope for a wheelchair ramp is 1 inch of rise in 12 inches of run. That is less steep and thus easier to negotiate.

Where you are short on space even with a 1:8 slope, and need to comply with the ADA I'd look at a ramp with landings and turns to make the total ascent.

Excerpt from "ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG)"

4.3 Accessible Route.

4.3.1* General. All walks, halls, corridors, aisles, skywalks, tunnels, and other spaces that are part of an accessible route shall comply with 4.3. Appendix Note

4.3.2 Location.

(1) At least one accessible route within the boundary of the site shall be provided from public transportation stops, accessible parking, and accessible passenger loading zones, and public streets or sidewalks to the accessible building entrance they serve. The accessible route shall, to the maximum extent feasible, coincide with the route for the general public.

(2) At least one accessible route shall connect accessible buildings, facilities, elements, and spaces that are on the same site.

(3) At least one accessible route shall connect accessible building or facility entrances with all accessible spaces and elements and with all accessible dwelling units within the building or facility.

(4) An accessible route shall connect at least one accessible entrance of each accessible dwelling unit with those exterior and interior spaces and facilities that serve the accessible dwelling unit.

4.3.3 Width. The minimum clear width of an accessible route shall be 36 in (915 mm) except at doors (see 4.13.5 and 4.13.6).

If a person in a wheelchair must make a turn around an obstruction, the minimum clear width of the accessible route shall be as shown in Fig. 7(a) and (b).

Below we provide a link to the full text of the ADA. In the Definitions section of that document you'll find helpful definitions of ramp slope and accessible route and other terms.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities - Full text PDF


Continue reading at RAMP LANDING CODES or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see BUILDING CODE DOWNLOADS - free downloadable PDF files of building codes & standards

Or see GUARDRAILS on BALCONIES, DECKS, LANDINGS for details about safety railings on landings and open hallways, porches, screened porches, balconies - horizontal walking surfaces.


Or see these

Adaptive Design Articles

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