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Handrails & handrailings for stairs, steps, & other locations: here we give stair rail construction & installation specifications & building code citation for handrailings, i.e. stairway handrails.
This article includes photographs, and examples of handrailings & stair & railing safety defects and gives checklists & images used in inspecting indoor or outdoor stair railings or handrails and related conditions for safety and proper construction.
Our page top photo illustrates a well-designed handrailing and stair guardrail at the CIA.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2014 InspectApedia.com, All Rights Reserved.
This article explains and illustrate the requirements for safe, useable hand railings on steps and stairs, both interior and exterior stairways.
Handrailings are a critical safety feature on outdoor and indoor stairs, and ramps, as are guardrails along landings, platforms, decks, porches, and similar structures.
At left the "handrailing" was filled with running water when we photographed it at el Alhambra in Granada, Spain. This is not a particularly easy rail to grasp if one is falling down the slippery brick stairs.
Handrailing safety requirements focus on these factors
Some of the fall injury cases we've investigated involved a combination of unsafe stairs and a fall that was made worse when the individual who lost their balance tried to grasp an unsafe handrail.
It's easy to be confused about the difference between handrails, stair rails and guardrails and their different uses, codes, and designs. In several building codes including the 2006 IRC Section R202 these terms are defined clearly. We add some comments.
A handrail is a horizontal or sloping rail intended for grasping by the hand for guidance or support. [Green arrow in our photo]
The large-diameter top of the stair guardrail (red arrow) would not be graspable by someone losing their balance or beginning a fall.
A handrail may be sloping (such as handrails required along stairs) or it may be horizontal (such as along any level walkway if provided) depending on the walking surface along which it is installed.
That is, if the railing is intended to be able to be grasped to help protect against a fall, it is called a handrail regardless of where it is installed.
Handrailings or hand rails may be commonly found installed in these locations
Railing Types - A Quick Guide
Detailed definitions of these three terms are
Temporary handrailings and guardrailings are also regulated in the workplace or jobsite, though not in private residences.
Our photo (left) illustrates a makeshift temporary railing that the author (DF) installed using a woodworking clamp and steel piping.
There was almost nothing technically correct about this temporary railing though as an expedient device it worked successfully to provide a graspable aid for climbing those three steps that otherwise offered no handrailing whatsoever.
OSHA regulates temporary railings and stairs used in the workplace - details are included in our OSHA stair & rail code citations below in this article.
The building code requirement for stair railings typically requires handrailings on stairs that have a total rise of three feet or more. Certainly the stairway that we observed in La Huerta, Mexico (photo at left) as well as the rooftop deck do not meet current safety standards.
If I live in a 3 stories home having an internal stair of 3'-0" wide.
Is this fully complied with Building Regulation and Code of Practice of Canada ?
Reply: Yes handrails should be continuous. And should return to the walls too. But between floors, depending on landing conditions, railings may be interrupted by doors, floors, etc.
As we stated more succinctly at the top of this article, guard railings should be continuous, but the railing can stop or be interrupted at a newell post or return at the railing ends at the bottom or top of the stairs. Railings should not be interrupted by posts within the "run" of the railing.
And where there is no newell post (railings are attached to the building wall) most jurisdictions will also require a handrail "return" that connects the end of the hand railing to the interior wall so that someone who grasps the railing during a fall won't have their hand slip off of the railing end. Our stair rail photo (above left) is from a stairwell that we just completed at a home in New York (courtesy of Eric Galow Homes, Lagrangeville, New York).
Stairways that end at a landing surrounded by walls or at a building floor are likely to have their handrails stop too at each level. Then the rail along stairs to the next floor will begin anew. Of course if your landing also has handrails (as would be required at least on a landing that had an open side (that is, no building wall), then we'd expect the stair rail to connect to the landing or balcony railing except where interrupted say by a doorway or an open floor on that level.
What I mean to say is that there may be practical reasons for a railing to change sides from one stairwell to another in a building. In the stairwell shown above, safest would have been a stair railing on both sides of the stairway but we didn't want to give up the passage space to a second rail. The building department accepted a continuous handrail with returns on the left side of the stair as shown.
See GUARDRAILS on BALCONIES, DECKS, LANDINGS where we describe details about railings on landings and open hallways or other horizontal walking surfaces.
This question was originally posted at BALUSTERS, STAIR & RAILING
Reader Question: Is it "legal" for a basement stair to have no handrailing?
I am purchasing a condo and there is no handrail on the stairs leading to the basement. there is a wall on the left and no handrail on the right. is this legal in new york state, and or nassau county? thank you for you assistance, S.F. 7/26/12
Reply: No, not normally
Our photo (at left) shows a common but unsafe lower floor or basement stair condition in an older home.
This stair is missing both handrailings and a stair rail or stair guard along the stair open side.
To make it possible to move large furniture or other objects between floors someone has removed the handrail and balusters that were originally installed on the open side of this stairway. We are sure that a stair rail was originally in place because we see the bottom newell post in our photo.
This is an unsafe stairway - the rail and balusters should be replaced. If the stair is more than three feet wide (probably it's not), and for all stairs in some jurisdictions, a handrail may also be required along the wall. The "legality" of this or any other building condition is in the final hands of the local building code department and officials.
Watch out: sometimes a local building department or official will issue a certificate of occupancy or "CO" on a building with conditions like the one shown here, either because the site was not actually visited (instead the "CO" indicates that there were "no issues on file") or because the official just didn't notice or didn't recognize an improper or unsafe condition.
Nevertheless, a "CO" does not prevent accidents nor litigation. "Saying it's OK" doesn't make it "OK" if an unsafe condition exists, and if there is an injury the building department is not going to pay the injured person's medical bills.
For more details about balusters (vertical spindles in railing construction) see BALUSTERS, STAIR & RAILING for full details of this topic and also
OSHA requires these handrailing details:
CA & OSHA Codes for [Graspable] Handrails Along Stairs & for Stair Rails Along Open Stairways as Guards
Details about handrailing graspability are discussed separately at GRASPABILITY of HANDRAILINGS. Excerpts are below.
Some codes (CA/OSHA Title 8 Section 1626) may cause a little confusion between the definition of handrail (green arrow) and guardrail, by adding a third term, stair rail (red arrow).
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.]
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.
Handrailing Specifications from CA/OSHA Title 8 Section 1626
Continuing from CA/OSHA Title 8 Section 1626 [paragraph (1) is given and discussed above]:
Don't Underestimate the Importance of Railings on Stairs
Opinion: Daniel Friedman. The following opinions derive the author's experience in building stairs, inspecting stairs in and at buildings, in researching stair construction practices & building codes, and in the occasional assistance in the investigation of stair falls.
While it is readily apparent that a loose, broken, or defective guardrail on a deck, balcony, or landing can contribute to or even cause a bad fall, we sometimes find that the role of the stair handrail in stair fall injuries is underestimated or missed entirely by people investigating such accidents.
The proper construction and physical condition of the handrailing at any stairway should be an important part of the investigation conducted to understand the cause & extent of stair falls and fall-related injuries.
At left our photo shows a stair handrailing that is functional and graspable. But what if the railing is one that is improperly located, secured, sized or shaped?
Because a defective stairway handrailing denies the stair user an opportunity to arrest or reduce the extent of a fall, non-functional handrailings are a significant contributor to the both the occurrence of the fall down stairs and the severity of the fall.
A stair fall can be initiated by many conditions or events, some related to the condition of a tread or walking surface (slippery, uneven, sloped, loose, gaps, knots, rot, breakaways, bad lighting) but also to other more independent causes (person is running and missteps, person trips over own shoelace).
In that circumstance, an improper or unsafe railing is in one sense, worse than had there been no handrailing present at all, since in the latter case a stair user will have observed that there was no railing and may have been inclined to move more slowly and with greater care without that security, just as we are not inclined to step to the very edge of a tall balcony if no railings are installed on its perimeter.
Our photo at left illustrates a stair railing that is much to large to be securely grasped. It might help to steady someone walking up or down the stairs as one can place a hand on the railing. But in a fall this railing is worthless.
Our friend Asta S., visiting el Nigromante Art and Cultural Center in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, is illustrating the extent of this oversized stair rail - just compare the size of her hand to the railing size.
A person using stairs often does not think at all about railings and may not even touch them - until a fall begins. At that moment there is an instinct to "grab on" to something to try to arrest the fall or at least to reduce its severity.
At the start of a fall up or down stairs, people will drop packages or even throw them into the air in the process of trying by instinct to grab onto a railing. The reach for a secure hand-hold in in such moments is rapid and the opportunity to obtain a secure grasp to stop a stair fall is brief, giving import to the term readily graspable handrails.
Profiles & Dimensions of Graspable vs Non-Graspable Handrailings
Details about the codes for and construction of properly graspable handrails are at GRASPABILITY of HANDRAILINGS. Excerpts are just below.
If the horizontal profile of a stairway handrailing is too fat (we give an example below, thumb grooves help but don't eliminate the hazard - for oversized stair rails simply can't be grasped securely.
These two sketches (above and below) are found in the California Building Code for stairs and railings .
Type II Residential Handrails - for perimeter larger than 6 1/4"
Some (not all) codes allow handrails that have an overall perimeter greater than 6 1/4", most commonly to permit use of 2x lumber to construct handrails. However in these larger sizes, the handrail must have a thumb and finger groove; Some older codes may permit the 2x6 handrail profile at far left in the illustration below, but as of 2009 the handrail needs a groove on both sides.
The intent of the finger and thumb groove is to provide equivalent graspability as might be obtained on a round 2-inch handrail. (The 2-inch handrail is allowed by all U.S. building codes.)
Watch out: No model building code and no other building code that we have surveyed permitted 2x6 or even 2x4 handrailings installed "on the flat" as a safe graspable stair handrail system. The two sketches here illustrate graspable (and X'd out non-graspable) handrailing profiles.
Reader Question: is a 2x6 handrailing safe and legal?
I fell using a handrail. It was a 2 by 6 piece of wood. Was this safety railing up to code in 1991? - Anon 8/20/12
Will a 2 by 6 pass code prior to 1991 to use as a safety railing ? - Anon
Reply: What are the Specifications for a Graspable 2x Hand Railing Along a Stair?
Anon, a 2x6 handrailing placed "on flat" and even a 2x4 handrailing in the vertical position if it lacks a thumb-groove (sketch above from the CBC  - click to enlarge) is not readily graspable, is not safe, and does not comply with the hand railing maximum perimeter rules in model building codes. Recapping from our article above in which we describe the shape and size parameters for stair handrails:
That last item in our bulleted list means that code inspectors may approve a 2x6 or 2x4 hand railing placed in the vertical position (narrow dimension facing up - a width that can be readily grasped during a fall, while on flat it cannot - but the design needs to include a finger recess to permit a secure grip. Without that finger or thumb recess (seems to me it should be on both sides of the rail) the grasp is not secure.
Photo Examples of Graspable and Stairway Handrailings
Below our photographs illustrate a properly designed & installed graspable stair railing or handrail. At below right, a photograph taken from the under-side of the handrail shows that when the railing is of a proper dimension and profile the hand can make a secure grasp with thumb and fingers.
The photographs below illustrate a non-graspable 2x6 wooden handrailing. At below left, the thumb is pressed against the vertical side of a 2x6, relying on friction alone for security - there is no mechanically-locking grasp of this railing - it is unsafe. Railings of this design are not approved by any of the model building codes.
At below right on the same railing design you can see that the four fingers of the hand also must rely on friction alone, as there is no groove that might give a mechanical purchase, and certainly the wood rail is far too large to be grasped around by the hand.
The stair railing below is attractive but like the full-scale 2x6 railing above the rail below is still hard to grasp, even with thumb and finger grooves because it is just too wide. An adult's hand can hold on with thumb and fingertips but a child could not grasp this rail and perhaps not an elderly person and probably no one at the onset of a fall.
Above we show photographs of two more non-graspable handrails that are unsafe: at left at Carnegie Hall in New York City, and at right demonstrated by Asta in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The "stair rail" at right is not just too big, it's not continuous.
Reader Question: best solution to missing handrail on spiral staircase in tower?
There is no handrail, and when we have previously consulted regarding provision of a rope, it seems that we have to insert special cast iron bolts in the mortar (not the stonework) and the rope has to be fixed on the inside surface where the tread of the stair is at its narrowest.
We think it is more dangerous on the central pillar than on the outer wall where the tread is widest. We have had one quote which has been accepted by the Diocese and our architect but the cost in 2008 was £2270+ Vat.
This seems such a large amount to find, and we do not allow people to go up the tower unless the Captain of the Bells needs to go to the bell chamber, or one or two people need to check on the lead roof, or for maintenance.
We would like to ascertain whether there is any way round this problem which would give some kind of handhold that is allowable but not so expensive. - Church Warden
Reply: ropes or cables make dangerous handrailings - don't rely on a rope handrail at publicly-used stairs
My OPINION is that I agree emphatically with you that a railing on the inner side of a circular stair is more hazardous than the opposite in that it forces the stair user to walk on the inner and thus smaller portions of the stair treads - a more likely area for falls. On the other hand if someone IS walking in that area, for sure that's the more hazardous area and so they'd want access to a railing.
When we first climbed these stairs in 1960 there were still no handrailings. When we visited the Pyramid of the Sun in 2012, a flexible rope or cable hand railing had been installed - of a sort - to assist tourists climbing these steep and tall stone steps.
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.
Our photo (left) indicates mid-stairway activities that could require secure handrails at a Tango dance hall in Buenos Aires.
International Building Code 2000 (BOCA, ICBO, SBCCI) Handrail Rules
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).
100333.11.4 Continuity. Handrail-gripping surfaces shall be continuous, without interruption by newel posts or other obstructions.
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.
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.
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.
Uniform Building Code Stairway, Railing, & Guardrail Specifications (UBC 10.3.3.36)
Using 1997 UBC version as a model 
Stairway Handrail Width Requirements & Codes
Stairway Handrail Height Requirements & Codes
Handrails shall be continuous the full length of the stairs and at least one handrail shall extend in the direction of the stair run not less than 12 inches (305 mm) beyond the top riser [sketch at left] nor less than 12 inches (305mm) beyond the bottom riser.
Ends shall be returned or shall have rounded terminations or bends.
Sketch of handrailing heights (above left) is from the Florida Handrailing Code advisory 505.4. Quoting that document:
Stair Handrail requirements - one vs both sides of the stairway:
Stairway handrailing clearance to wall
Typically codes require a minimum of clearance of 1 1/2 inches between the inner surface of the handrailing and the adjacent wall. Our sketch is from Figure 505.5 of the Florida Handrailing code which states:
505.6 Gripping Surface. Handrail gripping surfaces shall be continuous along their length and shall not be obstructed along their tops or sides. The bottoms of handrail gripping surfaces shall not be obstructed for more than 20 percent of their length. Where provided, horizontal projections shall occur 11/ 2 inches (38 mm) minimum below the bottom of the handrail gripping surface.
1. Where handrails are provided along walking surfaces with slopes not steeper than 1:20, the bottoms of handrail gripping surfaces shall be permitted to be obstructed along their entire length where they are integral to crash rails or bumper guards.
2. The distance between horizontal projections and the bottom of the gripping surface shall be permitted to be reduced by 1/ 8 inch (3.2 mm) for each 1/ 2 inch (13 mm) of additional handrail perimeter dimension that exceeds 4 inches (100 mm).
Handrailing bottom or under-side clearance to horizontal projections & supports
Advisory 505.6 Gripping Surface. People with disabilities, older people, and others benefit from continuous gripping surfaces that permit users to reach the fingers outward or downward to grasp the handrail , particularly as the user senses a loss of equilibrium or begins to fall.
You can see in this example, also from Florida's handrail code, that there is also a recommended minimum clearance distance between the under-side of the handrailing and a supporting horizontal projection that carries the railing.
California Building Code Handrailing Specifications (CBC 1003.3.3.6)
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 
(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.
(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.)
Handrails may serve as the top member or a component of stair rails & vice-versa
Our photo (left) illustrates very challenging stairs with a high rise, climbing to over 230 feet at the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacán outside of Mexico City. Adding to the challenge is the combination of uneven and very tall rise steps, the starting altitude (7350 feet) that can add to dizziness for tourists, a flexible cable "handrailing", and the sun itself. Construction began abut 2 A.D., a bit before OSHA was established.
OSHA, in describing stairs built for use during building construction, specifies these details: 
The following general OSHA requirements apply to all stairways and stair rails:
Handrailing Extension Requirements on stairs, landings, ramps.
Handrailings in public areas are generally required to extend 12-inches past the top or bottom step, as shown in this sketch from Florida's Handrailing Code.
The same requirement pertains to access ramps.
Codes generally do not require extensions on private handrailings. In our two photographs shown here you will see handrailing or guardrailing extensions on a stairway and on a ramp that are on the Vassar College campus in Poughkeepsie, NY.
The Florida Handrail Code at Figure 505.10.2 the illustrations at left explain the 12-inch extension requirement for public handrails at the top or bottom of certain stairs or ramps.
Watch out: it is important to notice that where handrail extensions are required the extension is enclosed (leftmost sketch) or returned to the wall (right hand sketch) so as to avoid forming a trap or catch that could snag a user's clothing, straps, handbag, etc.
Our photo (above left) illustrates well-designed stair guardrail /handrail extensions at the top and bottom of these exterior stairs located in Poughkeepsie, NY.
Handrail extension requirements for ramps are also illustrated at RAMPS, ACCESS.
Continue reading at HANDRAILING STRENGTH requirements & testing standards or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
Suggested citation for this web page
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: regulations for theatrical stairs and railings: what are the safety and code requirements?
Q1: Can a railing change as it goes along...ie Steel/wood to rope back to Steel/wood ?
Q2: Is there any law (not guides) governing gaps between railing when it cannot be continuous ?
My problem is it is not going to be a permanent structure as it will be part of a set in a theatre (just for the shows) I was wondering whether there were different rules for such? - D. Gould 8/8/2011
Reply: review stair and rail standards, perform local safety inspection, comply with local regulations, educate actors and crew
The short answer is that in a theatrical production where model building codes are not going to be followed you will want to understand the intent of the code and to comply as much as possible with that safety objective. So to use your example, if a railing changes material but the actor's hand can slide from one section to another without obstruction you are meeting an intent of the model stair codes. And where railings cannot be continuous there may be serious fall hazards that in my OPINION should be addressed by some means: safety cables, warning markings, special training and preparation of the actors, lighting details, even in some cases a safety harness, etc.
Background on Theatrical Stage Set Stairs and Railing Safety Advice
It is widely recognized  and  that in the more temporary constructions used for theatrical productions and sets, local and model building code standards are rarely respected in total, and except in major cities where local code officials have considered the building and safety code needs of theatres, other local building codes are generally not going to be adequate for theatrical productions.
Some model codes and national codes such as the IBC Stairs Code and the U.S. National Electrical code do include provisions for theatres and stages. There are also texts such as Holloway's Illustrated Theatre Production Guide and Teague's (non-code-compliant) advice for building theatre stairs 
You are well aware that there are special hazards to the actors - especially depending on lighting variations etc. and certainly we've both seen productions using tall steep stairs that sport no railings whatsoever. It is also my OPINION that some productions I've seen involved staging that was so dangerous (indeed people had been injured) that the performance of some actors appeared to be affected by a real fear of falling - which in some perhaps, helped the interpretation of the script.
It makes sense to start any set design with good stair and railing safety practices and to recognize where production requirements (and the director and set designer) need to vary from those by making special effort to compensate and reduce risk. I've seen, for example, use of yellow/black floor safety tape markings and in some productions, use of small diameter wiring as fall barrier warnings. And I would bet that the director/producer and set safety experts also spend time briefing actors on necessary safety precautions.
In addition to consulting with local code officials about requirements for theatrical sets and the use of an onsite safety inspection before dress rehearsals and stage productions begin, there are published safety guidelines for theatrical productions that you might review for suggestions, often more local, such as Yale's guidelines.
Australia, for example, has specific standards for licensing people who perform high risk work such as rigging. Those guidelines recognize that for staging reasons standard railings may not be provided (such as balusters 4" o.c. but they require an inspection and approval of the set for trip and fall hazard safety (as well as fire and electrical and other safety concerns) before the production can be staged.
Mr. Gould, please also take a look at the theatrical set stair and rail notes and references I've added above this section and the reference texts added below this section.
Being a Stage Manager, the safety of performers and crew and to some extent the general public (as they should not be up on the stage) is of paramount importance to me and I am very aware of the 'pit falls' of Health & Safety awareness or lack of it in many venues I have worked in. I always work from a standpoint of 'do "I" think it is safe' and if the answers is no then something will be done to rectify the problem. Unfortunately we don't live in a perfect world and other people do 'cut corners' when it comes to their own and others safety, fortunately I am not one for cutting corners and do not tolerate such in others likely. Thank you for the extra advice and your time. - D. Gould 8/9/11
D we're in complete agreement. Unfortunately in theatre applications it doesn't look as if we can count on much protection from code officials. Recognizing the need to be safe, (and I too am aware of some awful pit-falls), I pose that you're doing about all possible, especially with the added step of focus on informing and cautioning the performers. No preaching coming from this end. I'd welcome specific suggestions that you think we should add to the topic as they'd surely help others.
Rope or Cable Handrailings?
Question: center post railing at double exit door?
Does a double exit door in a public building having a center post require a railing? - firstname.lastname@example.org
Reply: need more details: how to send photos and sketches to InspectAPedia.com
Sorry, we don't quite understand the question. Perhaps a photo or sketch (use our CONTACT link). Railings are provided on landings and stairs. I'm not clear how your question about types of doors affects that condition. If you mean that there are steps down from the exit door then the standard handrailing requirements should apply.
Question: do we need to have a handrail for just 2 steps?
is it necessary to have a handrail for 2 steps in a hair Salon? Going up to the washing area is that in violation of the Bldg. codes? - email@example.com 5/24/12
Reply: 36-inch or 30-inch rule for step heights that require handrailings
Question: are handrails required on both sides of a stairway or can they be on just one side? Stair fall report.
My wife fell off the whole length of the stairs [14 all together}. she sustained multiple fractures hip and leg. The stairs are 36" wide, and have only one handrail. Wondering if the construction code requires 2 handrails for stairs that are 36" or more. Because had it been
Jacques I am so sorry to read about your wife's extensive stairfall injuries. Indeed if she was walking on the stairs on the side that lacked a handrail that could have contributed to her injuries, in my OPINION, by failing to give her a chance to save herself or reduce or interrupt the fall by grabbing onto a railing. Indeed in some jurisdictions a rail is recommended or even required for wider stairways - but this is a question that you need to ask your local building department officials, as the local officials are the final word on building code interpretation and enforcement.
Model codes such as the IRC specify that a user should not be more than 30 inches from a handrail, but since a person using a stairway has a body that is greater than six inches in width, such a person, walking up or down a 36" stairway that had a handrail on only one side, could most likely reach and grasp the rail on the other side.
Therefore model building codes have tried to clarify this provision in better language such as the following IBC quotation and the California General Safety Orders Section 3214 quotation:
Question: Methods for raising the top height of a stair handrailing that is too short
In addition, in another complex in Oregon, the insurance company suggests the balcony or stair railing are less than 42 inches high. Railing less than 42 inches high do not adequately protect adults and children from falling. It is recommended that the insured replace the balcony and stair railings that are less than 42 inches tall with railings exceeding 42 inches in height to reduce fall potential. - Tami 7/23/12
Reply: Methods for Raising the height of an existing metal stair rail or guardrail:
If that's the case, welding on an additional tier of railing, while it creates multiple horizontal bars, will result in a railing in which both horizontal members are high enough above the step level that the hazard of making the railing "climbable" to a child is minimized - check with your local building officials to be sure they'll approve the addition before actually executing it.
Quoting stair railing heights from the document above:
It seems to me you want to ask your building officials for a height clarification, including a clarification on the maximum handrail height they consider safe (reachable) along a stairway.
If you and the officials are discussing not a stairway railing but guard rails on a balcony or landing, please take a look at our separate article on guardrails at Guardrails on Balconies & Landings where you'll see a 42" minimum guardrail height requirement for buildings newer than 1970. In that article we warn against interpreting building codes to permit stairway handrailings to be placed too high as they could be beyond reach or safe grasp.
Don't confuse the handrail (along a rising or descending stairway) with guardrails (along horizontal walking surfaces such as a balcony or deck).
Keep us posted, and send along photos of the before and after railing improvements - that will permit further comment and may assist others.
Question: what are the reinspection requirements for jobsite guardrails, handrails, & stairways?
5/14/2014 Lawrence Spence said:
I can find all of the OSHA regs for handrails/guardrails but I can't find requirements for re-inspection of the above. Weather, fire, and factory operation conditions can all affect the useful life of handrails/guardrails but nothing is ever mentioned about when they should be re-tested.
Safety departments only say you should not lean on a railing, because it may have been corroided causing failure.
But, retesting before work begins in an area where guard rails provide the major fall safety protection is never mentioned in the quideslines for such work. Any suggestions on this issue?
Reply: OPINION: reinspect by a qualified expert based on any change that would raise question about the safety or condition of the handrail, guardrail, or stairway
Excellent point Lawrence. I've looked at this before and found a few general guidelines but nothing very explicit. I'll research again. The language I find is found, for example in STICCS (power point) of STICCS: Strengthen Training Infrastructure and Competency in Construction Safety, was created by the Trimmer Foundation under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Susan Harwood Training Grant No. SH-18802-09-60-F-51.
A competent person must make daily inspections of excavations, areas around them and protective systems: Ref. 29 CFR 1926.651(k)
Or this OSHA reference on scafflolding:
A "competent person" must inspect the scaffolding and, at designated intervals, reinspect it.
My OPINION (I'm not an expert on this point) is that the intent is to recognize that reinspection is needed at the worksite but the timing of that reinspection is undefined and should be made "by a qualified expert" (also undefined). Reinspection should be scheduled when ANY condition or event would lead a reasonable, prudent site manager to recognize that conditions may have affected the safety of the system. Rain, snow, wind, freezing conditions, structural progress, change of use, age or time, or other factors could be examples of those conditions.
To OSHA 5/14/2014
I've contacted OSHA and posed the following question
I publish public safety information at InspectApedia.com on stair & guardrail standards & fall protection. A question arises from various readers about the need for re-inspection of jobsite guardrails, stairs, handrails as conditions change for any reason.
I've been asked and expressed my OPINION in offering an answer but we and our readers would certainly benefit from and appreciate any guidance from OSHA on when reinspections should be scheduled.
You can see my current response to this question at
If OSHA does not have any reinspection guidelines and would like assistance in drafting one for review & comment I'd be glad to assist (pro bono).
Contact Information for OSHA in the U.S.
OSHA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor, maintains a public contact web page to report unsafe conditions in the workplace or to ask a workplace safety or healtyh-related question.
Below is OSHA's reply to our query - basically OSHA's reply was not helpful
1. did not address our specific question
2. offers "whistle blower" and other contact information.