Railing Safety Guidelines

Railings are an essential safety feature. No matter whether the balustrade is internal or external to a commercial public or domestic building, you need to be confident your railings and balustrade meet the current set of safety guidelines.

* What follows is not intended as legal or formal advice but is simply to inform. If you are unsure about any aspect of your balustrade design or interpreting the guidelines, call the expert team at Balustrade Components. Guidelines and regulations are updated from time to time, so check for the latest set of guidelines before you begin an installation.

What are the legal requirements for Railings?

Examine in detail Building Regulations BS 6180:2011 – ‘Barriers in and Around Buildings’

INTERNAL balustrades and railings must be at a height of 0.9 metres or 900mm from the datum, meaning from the floor or ground on which the post holding up the railing or that forms part of the balustrade sits.

EXTERNAL balustrades and railings need to be taller at 1.1 metres or 1100mm from the datum.

green railing

What about permitted materials?

Surprisingly, there are no types of material that are prohibited for use in balustrades and railings under UK regulations. The most commonly used materials for commercial external railings tend to be robust and durable stainless steel or aluminium. Wood can also be used but requires maintenance much more frequently.

Railings and balustrades must be sturdy and ridgid, and must be able to withstand pressure without buckling.

Using glass in balustradesglass railing

Glass is a popular choice for balustrades – it certainly looks great but is also sturdy, robust and hard, requiring minimal maintenance.

The best types of glass to use are:

  • Toughened glass – also known as tempered glass, this is heated to around 700°c before it is rapidly cooled (known as quenching). This quenching process takes around 60 seconds, the effect of which produces a strong outer layer on the glass and locks in tension within the core of the glass.
  • Laminate glass – this is a strong product with at least two layers of glass and an interlayer usually, a resin-based plastic ‘stuck’ together.

For any glass to be used in a balustrade, it needs to pass an impact test. Glass, no matter how it is treated, will break at some point. It is considered safe if it meets one of the following three descriptions;

  1. When it breaks, a hole is made but the panel stays in place
  2. The glass disintegrates into small detached particles
  3. The broken glass is not sharp

Toughened and laminated glass chips rather than shatters but if it does, the small pieces of glass are not razor-sharp shards.

How much weight or pressure do balustrades and railings need to withstand?

The weight or load on a balustrade is measured in kiloNewton per metre or kN/m for short. There are three load measurements to consider;

  1. Horizontal loading on the handrail
  2. Vertical loading on the handrail
  3. Pressure or load on the infill, e.g. the balusters or glass infill panels. The infill load must be tested on distributed load and a point load

Domestic balustrades and handrails must be able to withstand 0.36kN/m but for external balconies, this figure rises to 0.74kN/m. In public areas where use as well a weight and pressures on balustrade and railings will be significantly higher, this figure rises again to 1.5kN/m. Shopping centres and other places with a high expected number of people using the facility will railings and balustrades that are capable of withstanding 3.0kN/m.

What about other components?

It is important to consider not only professional installation of balustrades and railings but the quality of components used in construction. This includes clamps and glass clips.

If the glass infill meets the standard you would expect glass clips and clamps to also offer a high level of resistance to wear and tear, as well as pressure and load. This is why when it comes to designing and installing a balustrade, it pays to talk to our team.


Useful Information

UK Government ‘Protection from Falling, Collisions and Impact’

BA 6180: 2011 – Barriers In and About Building Code of Practice


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