Building Codes for Cable-type Guardrails Wire Rope Railings & Ladder Effect
Codes, Standards, Installation Manuals
POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about Building Code Rules & Installation Specifications for Guardrail Cables: Wire Rope Railings, spacing, tensioning, support, cable diameters, inspection, safety hazards, applications, & code approvals
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Model Building Code citations for cable railings or wire rope guardrails:
This article lists historical and current model building codes regulating guardrail openings, cable railings, and railings where the ladder-effect, climbable guardrails, may be present. We give the allowable opening size between guardrail or stair guard openings including the 4" sphere and 6" sphere passage through openings guidelines.
This article series describes and includes illustrations of cable or wire rope railings or guardrails used along decks, balconies, walkways and stairways. We include definitions of guardrail, a handrailing or stairway handrail, and other terms that assist in understanding the building code, construction, and safety requirements that wire cable type railings must meet.
Where the presence of children argues against any sort of horizontally-run guard railing member, cable railing manufacturers can provide vertical cable railing designs.
We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.
Model Building Code Citations on Allowable Openings Code Citations pertinent to Cable Railings
Watch out: because local state or provincial building codes adopt model codes from different years and because the final legal authority always rests with local building officials, you should check with your local building department about what guardrailing specifications are required where you live.
[Click to enlarge any image]
History of Model Building Code Specifications for Opening Size & Ladder Effect in Guardrails
IRC 2000 a 4" sphere - general; 6" sphere cannot pass through the at triangle formed by riser, tread and bottom rail. Required guards shall not be constructed with horizontal rails or other ornamental pattern that results in a ladder effect.
R316.2 Guard opening limitations. Required guards on open sides of stairways, raised floor areas,
balconies, and porches shall have intermediate rails or ornamental closures that do not allow passage of a sphere 4 inches (102mm) in diameter.
Required guards shall not be constructed with horizontal rails or other ornamental pattern that results in a ladder effect.
Exception: The triangular openings formed by the riser, tread, and bottom rail of a guard at the open side of a stairway are permitted to be of such a size that a sphere 6 inches (152mm) cannot pass through.
IRC 2001 a 4" sphere - general; 6" sphere - at triangle formed by riser, tread and bottom rail.
The Ladder Effect restriction cited in the 2000 IRC was removed.
IRC 2003 R312.2 Guard opening limitations. Required guards on open sides of stairways, raised floor areas, balconies and porches shall have intermediate rails or ornamental closures which do not allow passage of a sphere 4 inches (102mm) or more in diameter.
Exceptions to the spacing rules given above:
Triangular openings formed by the riser, tread and bottom rail of a guard at the open side of a stairway should be such that a sphere 6 inches (152 mm) cannot pass through.
Openings for required guards on the sides of stair treads shall not allow a sphere 4 3/8 inches (107mm) to pass through.
IRC 2012, Guard Openings
R312.2 Guard opening limitations. Required guards shall not have openings from the walking surface to the required guard height which allow passage of a sphere 4 inches (102 mm) in diameter.
The triangular openings at the open side of stair, formed by the riser, tread and bottom rail of a guard, shall not allow passage of a sphere 6 inches (153 mm) in diameter.
Guards on the open side of stairs shall not have openings which allow passage of a sphere 43/8 inches (111 mm) in diameter.
IBC 2000 4" sphere – general - to a height of 34"; 6" sphere - at triangle formed by riser, tread and bottom rail; 8" sphere from a height of 34" to 42".
Exceptions: 21" sphere for elevated walk for electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems and Group I-3, F, H, or S occupancies, balusters, horizontal intermediate rails or other construction.
IBC 2003 3. In areas which are not open to the public within occupancies in Group I-3, F, H or S, balusters, horizontal intermediate rails or other construction shall not permit a sphere with a diameter of 21 inches (533 mm) to pass through any opening.
In assembly seating areas, guards at the end of aisles where they terminate at a fascia of boxes, balconies and galleries shall have balusters or ornamental patterns such that a 4-inch-diameter (102 mm) sphere cannot pass through any opening up to a height of 26 inches (660 mm).
From a height of 26 inches (660 mm) to 42 inches (1067mm) above the adjacent walking surfaces, a sphere 8 inches (203 mm) in diameter shall not pass.
2016/08/28 Steve Anzelc Dove Inspections said:
This Feeney Inc. article has great history on removal of ladder effect from IRC in 2001
A brief history of the IRC's position on horizontal "ladder effect" railings (including cable railings) is given in our own article CABLE RAILINGS & GUARDRAILS in section: LADDER EFFECT at GUARDRAILS and that history is indeed repeated for IRC editions in 2000, 2001, and 2012 in the in the article you suggested and whose citation we have expanded.
Indeed it's both significant and interesting that guidance regarding an obvious child hazard: climbable guardrails, was amended to remove what experts previously agreed was a concern.
Perhaps this was a concession to cable railing manufacturers and architects who like horizontal cabling either aesthetically or because the longer horizontal cable-pull runs are manifestly easier and more economical to install.
We might both also look for research comparing hazard levels of vertical vs. horizontal cable guardrails that lack adequate tension to prevent deformation and openings that form safety hazards.
Other Cable Guardrail & Stair Guard Codes & Standards
Watch out: In addition to the requirement to comply with all local zoning and building codes, or safety and durability cable type guardrailings and stair rails, their posts, connections, and tensioning devices must be installed following the specifications provided by the cable railing manufacturer. We give some examples and cable railing or cable guardrail installation standards and manuals here.
Some cable railing system manufacturers provide a cable tensioning gauge intended for use with their cable system. For example Fortress Railing System instructions specify that the cable tension be set to between 10 and 16 on the tension gauge provided by the manufacturer. (We don't have a translation of that into psi.)
In other cases you may find that there are often no quantitative tensioning instructions nor measurements in other instructions for cable rail systems, perhaps in part because of the difficulty of making precise, accurate and objective field measurements.
CANADA: building codes, Cable Guardrail rules, discussion, codes:
CABLE GUARDRAILS in CANADA [PDF] - BCC Ruling No. 16261454 on cable railings in Canada, retrieved 2018/10/20, original source: www.mah.gov.on.ca/Page16639.aspx
In Canada, a building permit is required when constructing new or when renovating the structure of any existing porch or deck that is 24” high or greater above finished grade.
Barrie Canada DECK SPECIFICATIONS [PDF] retrieved 2018/10/23, original source: https://www.barrie.ca/Living/Housing-and-Property/renovations-and-projects/Documents/Deck-Specifications.pdf
BRITISH COLUMBIA DECK & BALCONY BUILDING GUIDE [PDF] BC Housing, retrieved 2018/10/23, original source: https://boabc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/IG-Building-Safe-Durable-Decks-Balconies.pdf
Note: Cable Railings do not appear in this guide
OSHA 1926.500, GUARDRAILS, HANDRAILS & GUARDS [PDF] Standard Number 1926.500, 23 April 1973 - Excerpt: Since cables or chains are commonly used as barriers or guards on construction projects at floor and wall openings and to establish uniformity in this Region, the
following criteria will govern the use of cable and chain as guards. ...
Cable Railing Systems & Installation Manuals, Specifications
ATLANTIS CABLE RAIL SYSTEM [PDF] retrieved 2017/08/28, Atlantis Rail Systems, Tel: 1-800-541-6829 Website: www.antlantisrail.com, original source: http://www.atlantisrail.com/cable-railing-how-to
SC&R provides at least 18 different cable railing designs and installation instructions including for aluminum post and rail systems, round and square posts, multiple top rail types in aluminum, stainless steel, wood,stainless steel post and rail systems, wood post and rail systems, field swaged or factory swaged assembly, and other variations. Two cable types include 19 cable strands twisted toghether, grade 316L & electroplated cabling, or 7 bundles of wires wound together to resemble a rope.
DEKORATORS® CABLE RAILING INSTALLATION INSTRUCTIONS [PDF] Universal Consumer Products, Inc. in the U.S. 933 US Route 202 Greene, ME 04236-3466 USA, TEl: 800.880.6278, Website: Deckorators.com retrieved 2017/08/28, original source: https://www.deckorators.com/~/media/deckorators/pdfs /installation%20instructions/railing/cablerailinstall_en.pdf
FEENY CABLE.RAIL® INSTALLATION GUIDE [PDF] OAKLAND, CA - Headquarters (driving directions)
2603 Union St Oakland, CA 94607-2423 USA Tel: 800-888-2418 Email: email@example.com Website: www.feeneyinc.com retrieved 2017/08/28 original source: http://www.feeneyinc.com/site/Technical/CableRail/ INSTALLATION%20INSTRUCTIONS/CableRail_Install_Wood_Metal.pdf
Question: mandatory inspection for cable handrails?
Just have a question. Do you know if it’s mandatory by the USA to have cable inspected, tested, have specifications or be certified prior to selling? Cable that will be used for handrails. - Anonymous by private email, 2017/08/28
Cable infill used in guard railings and stair guards is regulated by some state building codes, and the system would be inspected as part of the permit and inspections and final building code authority approval for the construction of stairs, balconies, etc. where such guards are installed.
National model building codes discuss railing security, strength, graspability, and safe opening widths in terms that would apply to cable type guardails.
Beyond those general guides I add that it will be essential to obtain and follow the installation specifications including for all connectors, posts, cable tensioning, and top railing that are set by the manufacturer of the specific cable railing system you are installing.
Watch out: regarding the details of your questin, there is no cable railing system that intends that you use a cable as the handrailing.
Continue reading at CABLE RAILINGS & GUARDRAILS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
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what building codes regulate the use of cables on guardrailings?
The stainless steel cables are used in commercial, what's the IBC on cables in guards? - Scott Emerson 8/18/12
Thanks for the question, Scott. We do find both horizontal and vertical cable guardrailings installed in commercial locations such as the shopping center shown in photos earlier on this page, but ultimately the approval is up to local code enforcement officials. As for specific code requirements, the railings have to pass the same height, strength, spacing, and graspability rules as other types of railings. Please take a look at the article above and also see references  and let me know if questions remain.
Question: Can the top rail of a guardrailing or stair rail be cable?
(May 18, 2014) bill blackburn said:
I find nowhere on the internet a specific reference to the code requirement for a rigid top rail in a cable guardrail system. Can the top rail be cable? (assuming a substantial anchor post and adequate cable tension) I am referring to an elevated deck, not stairs.
The top rail and entire assembly requirements are generally specified as strength and height and spacing requirements.
See GUARDRAIL & HANDRAIL STRENGTH for examples of the requirement for a top railing along a glass guardrail. Similar restrictions would pertain to a cable type guardrail system.
Reader Question: are cable railings permitted by OSHA?
(Aug 5, 2015) Fran said:
Can these cables be applied for OSHA guardrailing?
There is not an explicit discussion of cable railings and guardrails in the OSHA language, as you'll see in the citation below.
(Oct 11, 2015) jackie said:
Hi I know the cable has to be about 4" apart but does anyone know what the local code is for post to post spacing? I live in orange county CA. I've been looking and can't find that. Spacing b/t cable is easy but what about post to post? Is there a code or is it whatever you feel like spacing them?
Post spacing is not illustrated in the model codes that we cite in this article series; rather the post spacing for cable railings will be specified by the manufacturer and are a feature of the cable railing's tensioning system. Typically you'll see more-modest intermediate posts and heavier, reinforced posts at corners where tensioning hardware is installed; on longer runs indeed a reinforced intermediate post or posts may be required for proper cable tensioning.
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 §3209. Standard Guardrails, California Building Code, provides description of how guard rails should be constructed. Web search 09/02/2011,original source: www.dir.ca.gov/title8/3209.html
 "The Elimination of Unsafe Guardrails, a Progress Report," Elliott O. Stephenson, Building Standards, March-April 1993
 "Are Functional Handrails Within Our Grasp" Jake Pauls, Building Standards, January-February 1991
 Access Ramp building codes:
 Access Ramp Standards:
ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), Public Law 101-336. 7/26/90 is very often cited by other sources for good design of stairs and ramps etc. even where disabled individuals are not the design target.
ANSI A117.4 Accessible and Usable buildings and Facilities (earlier version was incorporated into the ADA)
ASTM F 1637, Standard Practice for Safe Walking Surfaces, (Similar to the above standard
 Falls and Related Injuries: Slips, Trips, Missteps, and Their Consequences, Lawyers & Judges Publishing, (June 2002), ISBN-10: 0913875430 ISBN-13: 978-0913875438 "Falls in the home and public places are the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in the United States, but are overlooked in most literature. This book is unique in that it is entirely devoted to falls. Of use to primary care physicians, nurses, insurance adjusters, architects, writers of building codes, attorneys, or anyone who cares for the elderly, this book will tell you how, why, and when people will likely fall, what most likely will be injured, and how such injuries come about. "
 The National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST (nee National Bureau of Standards NBS) is a US government agency - see www.nist.gov
"A Parametric Study of Wall Moisture Contents Using a Revised Variable Indoor Relative Humidity Version of the "Moist" Transient Heat and Moisture Transfer Model [copy on file as/interiors/MOIST_Model_NIST_b95074.pdf ] - ", George Tsongas, Doug Burch, Carolyn Roos, Malcom Cunningham; this paper describes software and the prediction of wall moisture contents. - PDF Document from NIS
 Slips, Trips, Missteps and Their Consequences, Second Edition, Gary M. Bakken, H. Harvey Cohen,A. S. Hyde, Jon R. Abele, ISBN-13: 978-1-933264-01-1 or
ISBN 10: 1-933264-01-2,
available from the publisher, Lawyers ^ Judges Publishing Company,Inc., www.lawyersandjudges.com email@example.com and also from the InspectAPedia Bookstore (Amazon.com)
 The Stairway Manufacturers' Association, (877) 500-5759, provides a pictorial guide to the stair and railing portion of the International Residential Code. [copy on file as http://www.stairways.org/pdf/2006%20Stair%20IRC%20SCREEN.pdf ] -
 Mold-Resistant Building Practices, advice from an expert on how to prevent mold after a building flood and how to prevent mold growth in buildings by selection of building materials and by anti-mold construction details.
 "The Dimensions of Stairs", J. M. Fitch et al., Scientific American, October 1974.
 Stair & Walkway Standards for Slipperiness or Coefficient of Friction (COF) or Static Coefficient of Friction (SCOF)
ASTM D-21, and ASTM D2047
UL-410 (similar to ASTM D-21)
NSFI 101-B (National Floor Safety Institute)
NSFI Walkway Auditing Guideline (WAG) Ref. 101-A& 101-B (may appear as ANSI B101.0) sets rules for measuring walkway slip resist
OSHA - (Dept of Labor CFR 1910.22 does not specify COF and pertains to workplaces) but recognizes the need for a "qualified person" to evaluate walkway slipperiness
ADA (relies on the ANSI and ASTM standards)
 A. Sacher, International Symposium on Slip Resistance: The Interface of Man, Footwear, and Walking Surfaces, Journal of Testing and Evaluation (JTE), ISSN: 1945-7553, January 1997 [more focused on slipperiness of polished surfaces
 Algae is widely recognized as a slippery surface - a Google web search for "how slippery is algae on steps" produced more than 15,000 results on 8/29/12)
 Slipperiness of algae on walking surfaces, warning, Royal Horticultural Society, retrieved 8/29/2012, original source: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/profile.aspx?pid=418
 Slipperiness of algae: "Watch your step, wet rocks and algae are slippery" Oregon State University warning 1977 retrieved 8/29/2012, original source: http://www.worldcat.org/title/watch-your-step-wet-rocks-and-algae-are-slippery/oclc/663683915
 Coefficient of friction of algae on surfaces [like stair treads]: Delphine Gourdon, Qi Lin, Emin Oroudjev, Helen Hansma, Yuval Golan, Shoshana Arad, and Jacob Israelachvili, "Adhesion and Stable Low Friction Provided by a Subnanometer-Thick Monolayer of a Natural Polysaccharide", Langmuir, 2008 pp 1534-1540, American Chemical Society,
retrieved 8/29/2012, Abstract: Using a surface forces apparatus, we have investigated the adhesive and lubrication forces of mica surfaces separated by a molecularly thin, subnanometer film of a high-molecular-weight (2.3 MDa) anionic polysaccharide from the algae Porphyridium sp. adsorbed from aqueous solution. The adhesion and friction forces of the confined biopolymer were monitored as a function of time, shearing distance, and driving velocity under a large range of compressive loads (pressures). Although the thickness of the dilute polysaccharide was <1 nm, the friction was low (coefficient of friction = 0.015), and no wear was ever observed even at a pressure of 110 atm over 3 decades of velocity, so long as the shearing distances were less than twice the contact diameter. Atomic force microscopy in solution shows that the biopolymer is able to adsorb to the mica surface but remains mobile and easily dragged upon shearing. The adhesion (adsorption) of this polysaccharide even to negatively charged surfaces, its stable low friction, its robustness (high-load carrying capacity and good wear protection), and the weak (logarithmic) dependence of the friction force on the sliding velocity make this class of polyelectrolytes excellent candidates for use in water-based lubricant fluids and as potential additives to synovial fluid in joints and other biolubricating fluids. The physical reasons for the remarkable tribological properties of the ultrathin polysaccharide monolayer are discussed and appear to be quite different from those of other polyelectrolytes and proteins that act as thick “polymer brush” layers.
 Jason R. Stokes, Lubica Macakova, Agnieszka Chojnicka-Paszun, Cornelis G. de Kruif, and Harmen H. J. de Jongh, "Lubrication, Adsorption, and Rheology of Aqueous Polysaccharide Solutions, Langmuir 2011 27 (7), 3474-3484
 "Coefficients of Friction for Ice", The Physics Factbook™, Glenn Elert, Ed., retrieved 8/29/12, original source: http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2004/GennaAbleman.shtml
 "Coefficients of Friction for Ice", The University of the State of New York Reference Tables for Physical Setting/Physics. New York: The State Education Department, 2002. Op. Cit.
 Serway Physics for Scientists and Engineers 4th edition (p. 126.)
 "How Slippery Is It", retrieved 8/29/12, original source http://www.icebike.org/Articles/howslippery.htm
 John E. Hunter, "Friction Values", The Source, Society of Accident Reconstructionists, Winter 1998. Study of frictional values of car tires involved in collisions on snow or ice covered roadways.
 Frictional Coefficients of some Common Materials and Materials Combinations, The Engineering Toolbox, retrieved 8/29/2012, original source: http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/friction-coefficients-d_778.html [copy on file as Friction and Coefficients of Friction.pdf ]
 Stairways and Ladders, A Guide to OSHA Rules, OSHA, U.S. Department of Labor, 3124-12R 2003 - Web Search 05/28/2010 original source: http://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3124.pdf. OSHA regulations govern standards in the construction industry and in the workforce Quoting from OSHA whose focus is on workplace safety and so excludes discussion of falls and stair-falls in private homes:
OSHA estimates that there are 24,882 injuries and as many as 36 fatalities per year due to falls from stairways and ladders used in construction. Nearly half of these injuries are serious enough to require time off the job--11,570 lost workday injuries and 13,312 non-lost workday injuries occur annually due to falls from stairways and ladders used in construction. These data demonstrate that work on and around ladders and stairways is hazardous. More importantly, they show that compliance with OSHA's requirements for the safe use of ladders and stairways could have prevented many of these injuries. -osha.gov/doc/outreachtraining/htmlfiles/stairlad.html
 International Building Code, Stairway Provisions, Section 1009: Stairways and Handrails, retrieved 8/29/12, original source: http://www.amezz.com/ibc-stairs-code.htm [copy on file as IBC Stairs Code.pdf]
 Model Building Code, Chapter 10, Means of Egress, retrieved 8/29/12, original source: http://www2.iccsafe.org/states/newjersey/NJ_Building/PDFs/NJ_Bldg_Chapter10.pdf, [copy on file as NJ_Bldg_Chapter10.pdf] adopted, for example by New Jersey. International Code Council, 500 New Jersey Avenue, NW, 6th Floor, Washington, DC 20001, Tel: 800-786-4452
Atlantis Rail, division of Suncor Stainless, Inc.,
Atlantis Rail Systems
70 Armstrong Road
Plymouth, MA 02360
Toll free: 800-541-6829
 The Wagner Companies
0600 West Brown Deer Rd.
Milwaukee, WI 53224
 Keuka Studios:
1011 Rush Henrietta Town Line Rd.
Rush, NY 14543
Phone: Toll Free (855) 454-5678
Main: (585) 487-6148
Fax: (585) 487-6150
 Building Code Rules for Stair Rail Cables - Wire Rope Guardrails & Stair Railings
UBC 1003.3.3 1997
 The International Building Code (IBC)
International Residential Code (IRC)
 ISO 9001:2008
 1003.3.3.11.3 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 shall have a minimum radius of 0.125 inch (3.2 mm).
 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.
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