All About Handrails

Handrails are a permanent fixture in our public stairways, walkways and ramps. The purpose of handrails is to provide assistance and stability for the user. These handrails help everyone, especially those with vision impairment or stability issues, orient themselves relative to the ramp or stairs and make the ascending and descending part of the journey easier. In this blog, we answer some of the most common questions and point out usual mistakes when handrails are designed and built for public spaces.

Do stairs have to have handrails?

Yes, handrails are an important component of any public staircase as handrails guide people, especially those with disabilities of the transition from a flat footpath to a series of stairs, or the increasing slope of a ramp. It also helps those with mobility or balance issues stabilize themselves while ascending or descending. The Building Code nominates that circulation stairs within buildings are to have handrails on both sides of the flight. 

What is the handrail height Australian Standards nominate?

AS1428.1-2009 nominates that handrails be placed at least 865mm but not more than 1000mm above the stair nosing or floor surface. This ensures that the handrail is at a convenient and constant height to grab and hold on to as one makes his way through the stairs or ramp.  

How far should a handrail be from a wall?

To allow users to hold onto the rail conveniently and comfortably, there should be a space of 50-60 mm between the handrail and wall. Aside from the wall clearance, a handrail must also have at least 600mm of unobstructed space above the handrail.

How should handrail endings be designed?

This is most probably the most common issue that designers and builders misinterpret when it comes to stair handrail regulations Australia has released for compliance. Handrails must not jut out and end unceremoniously at the bottom or top of the stairs. To terminate the handrail, Australian Standards gives three options: it returns to the side wall, goes downwards to the floor, or curves back on a 180-degree turn to eliminate blunt edges which might cause hazardous bumps to the distracted public. The design of these terminations still rests with the designer.

Where should the handrail start or end?

Another point of confusion for designers and builders is the starting or ending point of a handrail. AS1428.1 mandates that stair handrails at the bottom of the stair flight must start or end at least one step away from the first stair and extend horizontally for another 300mm. At the top of the stair flight the handrail is to extend 300mm past the top riser. For 1:20-10:14 ramps handrails are to extend 300mm past the point where the incline flattens out. This allows anyone to have ample time to adjust and orient themselves for a transition to a staircase. It should not start on the first step of the stair or on the start of the slope of a ramp.

What is the recommended size for a handrail?   

For a handrail to meet the Australian Standards, it must be 30mm to 50mm in diameter.

Clearances above handrails 

A requirement that is often missed is that a 600mm clearance zone is required above the handrail.

While these are just some of the common questions we receive about handrails, there are more design requirements noted in the Australian Standards for handrails to ensure that the public, especially people with disabilities, have a safer and easier time moving and navigating around walkways, ramps, and staircases.

Look around you, keep your eyes peeled for these handrails and let us know if the ones you see follow these handrail regulations or not. Better yet, share a photo of a handrail in your most frequent public spaces like the metro or railway.

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