Stair_Rail_Cant_Grasp (C) Daniel Friedman Handrail Graspability Codes
Model building code specifications & standards on Handrailing Graspability

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Handrailing graspability codes:

This article explains and illustrate the requirements for graspable handrails & railings used inside or outside buildings, including guardrails, hand railings on steps and stairs, and stair rails or stair guards for both interior and exterior stairways. used on stairs, balconies, decks, ramps, walks.

This article series explains and illustrate the requirements for graspable handrails & railings used inside or outside buildings, including guardrails, hand railings on steps and stairs, and stair rails or stair guards for both interior and exterior stairways. used on stairs, balconies, decks, ramps, walks.

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A Comparison of Building Codes Specifying Hand Railing Graspability Requirements

Railing too low to grasp (C) Daniel FriedmanHere we include descriptions & definitions of graspability for handrailings, and we illustrate safe and unsafe, graspable and not-graspable handrailings in sketches, photographs, and building code citations. These stair and railing articles provide building code specifications, sketches, photographs, and examples of stair & railing safety defects used in inspecting indoor or outdoor stair railings or handrails and related conditions for safety and proper construction. [Click to enlarge any image]

Summary of Handrailing Space, Location, Height, Continuity Codes

Our photo just below indicates mid-stairway activities that could require secure handrails at a Tango dance hall in Buenos Aires.

Handrailing at a tango milonga, Buenos Aires Argentina (C) D Friedman

International Building Code 2000 (BOCA, ICBO, SBCCI) Handrail Rules

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 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.

BOCA National Property Maintenance Code 1993 Handrailing Requirements

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.

Uniform Building Code Stairway, Railing, & Guardrail Specifications (UBC

Using 1997 UBC version as a model [38]

Stair Handrail requirements:

Stairways shall have handrails on each side, and every stairway required to be more than 88 inches (2235 mm) in width shall be provided with not less than one intermediate handrail for each 88 inches (2235 mm) or required width. Intermediate handrails shall be spaced approximately equally across with the entire width of the stairway.


1. Stairways less than 44 inches (1118 mm) in width or stairways serving one individual dwelling unit in Group R, Division 1 or 3 Occupancy or a Group R, Division 3 congregate residence may have one handrail.

2. Private stairways 30 inches (762) or less in height may have a handrail on one side only.

3. Stairways having less than four risers and serving one individual dwelling unit in Group R, Division 1 or 3, or a Group 4, Division 3 congregate residence or Group U Occupancies need not have handrails.

California Building Code Handrailing Specifications (CBC 1003.3.3.6)

The intent of a handrail is to provide a handgrip for people using a stairway. Stairways which serve an individual dwelling unit must have a handrail on one side if they have four risers or more.

Such stairways with fewer than four risers are not required to have handrails. Handrails projecting from a wall shall have not less than 1 1/2 inches between the wall and handrail.

Handrails must be placed between thirty-four and thirty-eight inches above the nosing of the stair treads.

Ends [of the stair handrailings] must be returned or have rounded terminations or bends. The handgrip portion of handrails shall not be less than 1 1/4 inches nor more than 2 inches in cross-sectional dimension or the shape shall provide an equivalent gripping surface.

The handgrip portion of handrails shall have a smooth surface with no sharp corners. [37]

CA & OSHA Codes for [Graspable] Handrails Along Stairs & for Stair Rails Along Open Stairways as Guards

Stair_Rail_Cant_Grasp (C) Daniel Friedman

Some building stair codes (CA/OSHA Title 8 Section 1626) leave readers a little confused between the definition of handrail (green arrow) and guardrail, by adding a third term, stair rail (red arrow in our photo).

A stair rail is basically a guard rail along an open stairway. A stair rail may itself be graspable and serve as a handrailing, or the stair rail might be higher, larger, and not-graspable, as shown in our photo at left. [When these stairs were first constructed, the handrail was not present.]

The following requirements apply to all stairways as indicated:

1926.1052(c)(1) Stairways having four or more risers or rising more than 30 inches (76 cm), whichever is less, shall be equipped with:

(A) At least one handrail; and

(B) A stair rail consisting of a top rail and mid-rail along each unprotected side or edge.

This separation of handrail from stair rail appears intended to permit the construction of the equivalent of a "guardrailing" along open stairways and consisting of not just the horizontal members described in (B) above.

But along an open stairway there will also be a requirement for vertical balusters or other means of enclosing the open or unprotected side or edge. Here "unprotected" side or edge means an "open" stairway - that is, stairs that do not run along an enclosing building wall.

California CA/OSHA Title 8 Building Code Stair & Railing Safety & Construction Details

Note: this code establishes minimum occupational safety & health standards that apply to all places of employment in California. This is not a residential building code requirement, but this text in our OPINION models stair construction safety & design specifications. Also
see STAIR TREAD DIMENSIONS and the other stair measurement parameter subtopics outlined in our detailed article links listed at the "More Reading" links at the bottom of this article .

CA OSHA Title 8 Section §3214. Stair Rails and Handrails [35]

(a) Stairways shall have handrails or stair railings on each side, and every stairway required to be more than 88 inches in width shall be provided with not less than one intermediate stair railing for each 88 inches of required width. Intermediate stair railings shall be spaced approximately equal within the entire width of the stairway.

Note: Intermediate stair railings may be of single rail construction.


(1) Stairways less than 44 inches in width may have one handrail or stair railing except that such stairways open on one or both sides shall have stair railings provided on the open side or sides.

(2) Stairways having less than four risers need not have handrails or stair railings.

(3) Stairways giving access to portable work stands less than 30 inches high.

(4) Stairs that follow the contour of tanks or other cylindrical or spherical structures where the construction requires the inside clearance between the inside stair stringer and wall or tank side to be 8 inches or less, shall not be considered an "open side."

(5) Guardrails may be erected provided a handrail is attached.

(b) A stair railing shall be of construction similar to a guardrail (see Section 3209) but the vertical height shall be in compliance with Section 3214(c). Stair railings on open sides that are 30 inches or more above the surface below shall be equipped with midrails approximately one half way between the steps and the top rail.

Note: Local building standards may require 4-inch spacing of intermediate vertical members.

(c) The top of stair railings, handrails and handrail extensions installed on or after April 3, 1997, shall be at a vertical height between 34 and 38 inches above the nosing of treads and landings. For stairs installed before April 3, 1997, this height shall be between 30 and 38 inches.

Stair railings and handrails shall be continuous the full length of the stairs and, except for private stairways, at least one handrail or stair railing shall extend in the direction of the stair run not less than 12 inches beyond the top riser nor less than 12 inches beyond the bottom riser. Ends shall be returned or shall terminate in newel posts or safety terminals, or otherwise arranged so as not to constitute a projection hazard.

(d) A handrail shall consist of a lengthwise member mounted directly on a wall or partition by means of brackets attached to the lower side of the handrail so as to offer no obstruction to a smooth surface along the top and both sides of the handrail. The handrail shall be designed to provide a grasping surface to avoid the person using it from falling. The spacing of brackets shall not exceed 8 feet.

(e) Handrails projecting from a wall shall have a space of not less than 1 1/2 inches between the wall and the handrail.

(f) The mounting of handrails shall be such that the completed structure is capable of withstanding a load of at least 200 pounds applied in any direction at any point on the rail.

Exception: Handrails and stair rails on flights of stairs serving basements or cellars that are covered by a trap door, removable floor or grating when not in use, shall stop at the floor level or entrance level so as not to interfere with the cover in the closed position. (Title 24, Part 2, Section 1006.9.2.7a.)

Note: Authority cited: Section 142.3, Labor Code. Reference: Section 142.3, Labor Code; and Section 18943(b), Health and Safety Code.

OSHA Handrail Code Summary

Handrailing Graspability Details: OSHA's requirements

Handrail at the Metropolitan Opera is graspable where needed (C) D Friedman

Our photo illustrates a handrail that is indeed "graspable" in New York's Carnagie Hall.

OSHA requires:


Full Text of IRC Building Codes 2006, 2012

The ICC has free, limited, live, online access to some of the latest codes, but I couldn't find the free link for IRC immediately.

Hand Railing Graspability Codes in Other Countries

British, Northern Ireland, & U.K. Stair Building Recommendations

Finnish Stair & Building & Accessiblity Decrees & Regulatoins

Wide stair guard railling blamed for stair fall (C) HKReader opinion: Showcase stairs compared with Safe stairs

We recently stayed at [a] 4 star Hotel in Tampere Finland where my wife suffered multiple fractures due to a fall down a marble staircase, the result of a missing graspable handrail, among other things.

The subject staircase was over 1000mm wide and therefore required a second hand rail on the outer perimeter. The Hotel tried to suggest only one hand rail was required, but when I pointed out the building code violation the dialogue ended abruptly with no further comments, except guilty silence from the Hotel and no further responses to my emails.

The marble staircase is actually a showcase as opposed to a safe staircase. It is a curved staircase with varying depth treads, lacking slip resistant friction tapes/strips to provide traction on worn slippery stairs and to delineate the edge of the treads by providing a contrasting visual cue.

Descending the curved stairs can be tricky in that a change-up of stride is required to negotiate the varying tread depths, and thus missteps occur resulting in falls.

For this reason, and according to code requirements, the second handrail is of the utmost importance to steady oneself when descending the stairs and to grasp in an emergency, should one start to fall as in my wife's case.

The top guardrail is probably intended to also serve as the second handrail but the diameter is much too large, over 50mm, and therefore ungraspable to qualify as a handrail according to EU standards or North American standards.

I am attaching photos taken subsequent to the incident and also a publicity photo of the Hotel manager posing on the staircase, to illustrate how inadequate the top guard rail appears as a graspable handrail.

Wide stair guard railling blamed for stair fall (C) HK

I am hoping that perhaps some of these photos can be used on your website as a warning, that a staircase, although beautiful and elegant, is not necessarily functionally safe, but rather presents a cruel deceptive danger to public safety.
Please continue with your informative work for the public good
..... - Kal Haikola [by private email] to editor, 2017/01/07


Wide stair guard railling blamed for stair fall (C) HK Wide stair guard railling blamed for stair fall (C) HK

We are certainly sorry that your wife suffered stair fall injuries. OPINION: Such falls are particularly painful and acute since by nature one is falling down more than one would on a level surface and across the edges of stair treads as well.

By your photos the handrail looks considerably too-large in diameter to be graspable, thus increasing the risk of fall injuries by denying a stairway user the opportunity to grasp the railing to arrest a fall. It may also be at the wrong height. More un-graspable handrails are illustrated at HANDRAIL GRASPABILITY DEFECT PHOTOS.

I also agree that polished marble walking surfaces, including stairs, can be particularly slippery, and considerably more slippery if the surfaces (or soles of shoes) are wet or soiled. Smooth-soled leather and some other shoe surfaces also add to the slipperiness hazard.

I also agree that because they require variation in the tread shape and pattern, curved and angled stairs can pose additional stair-fall hazards. See CIRCULAR & CURVED STAIRS and also WINDER or ANGLED STAIRS.

The requirement for an intermediate or central handrailing in wide stairways is in my experience very inconsistently enforced if it is stated at all. Even in New York City where there are acute building regulations and inspections I find some wide stairways with no intermediate railing, such as at the recently-renovated Metropolitan of Modern Art building in Manhattan.

Finnish stair regulations, excerpting from the country's Barrier-free Building Regulations (2005) attached, includes this assertion:
Easy-to-use and secure handrails must be fitted on both sides of ramps and stairs in foyers, in any other internal traffic areas and in outside locations. The handrails must also continue uninterrupted on half landings.

The exact dimensions and heights for handrails and guardrails are not given in the documents I could find.

Wide stair guard railling blamed for stair fall (C) HK

I see an additional, smaller-diameter (and possibly graspable) handrailing along the wall in your photos. I have observed that a right-handed person usually prefers to ascend where she can grasp the handrail on the right and descend where she'd grasp one on her left. However a stair designer must assume that users of the stairs may for a variety of reasons have to walk anywhere in the width of the stairway.

I include some of your photos though they're small and blurry. I'll see if my software can improve the sharpness of your images.

See also these building codes and decrees for Finland:

Comment: U.S. NFPA 101 Code on handrail height, diameter, graspability

(July 26, 2016) NHFireBear said:

The NFPA 101 Life Safety Code requirements for handrail height, diameter and graspability are found in section



Thank you NHFB for this stair handrail code update. Readers: the commenter is an attorney and a building inspector and a frequent contributor to Other techincal reviewers are listed at ABOUT


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