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  4. Approved Document K what it is & how it applies to balustrades and handrails – A deep dive
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  4. Approved Document K what it is & how it applies to balustrades and handrails – A deep dive

Approved Document K what it is & how it applies to balustrades and handrails – A deep dive

Top Tip!

This article is rather in-depth, and you may find it difficult to read. We have a simplified 14 step summary, which covers the basics and then this article is designed to be used if more information is required to clarify any particular points!. See the summarized version here.

Approved Document K is a building regulation document providing guidance on protection from falling, collision and impact.

It outlines the measures needed to protect from falling, including appropriate safety measures on staircases, ramps and ladders, and advice about the positioning of balusters, vehicle barriers and windows to avoid injury.

TAKE CARE: People responsible for building work (e.g. agent, designer, builder or installer) must ensure that the work complies with all applicable requirements of the Building Regulations. The building owner may also be responsible for confirming that work complies with the Building Regulations. If building work does not comply with the Building Regulations, the building owner may be served with an enforcement notice.

This article will delve deeper into the details recommended in Document K and summarise just the critical parts relevant to balustrading. Document K covers a lot more than just balustrading and handrails, such as the angle of stairs, landings etc. which is not included in this article.

Requirement K1

Document K1 deals with the following requirement from Part K of Schedule 1 to the building regulations 2010:

K1. Stairs, ladders, and ramps shall be designed, constructed, and installed to be safe for people moving between different levels in or about the building.

Therefore, it is essential to view the following points as “simple good practise” rather than “nuisance rules” as they are designed to ensure the safety of people on your property!

SECTION 1: Stairs and ladders

We have referenced each paragraph with the same numbering as the complete Approved Document K to enable easy cross-referencing if need be.

Width of flights of stairs

For buildings other than dwellings

1.14.  For stairs that form part of means of escape, also refer to Approved Document B: Fire Safety, Volume 2 – Buildings other than dwelling/houses.

1.15.  For flights of stairs, provide all of the following.

a. A minimum stair width between enclosing walls, strings or upstands of 1200mm.

b. A minimum width between handrails of 1000mm.

c. If the flight is more than 2m wide, divide it into flights a minimum of 1000mm wide, as shown in Diagram 1.5

d. For access for maintenance, see paragraph 1.42.

 

For dwellings

1.16 In exceptional circumstances where severely sloping plots are involved, a stepped change of level within the entrance storey may be unavoidable. In those instances, ensure that stairs within the entrance storey of a dwelling have flights with a minimum stair width of 900mm.

For industrial buildings:

1.33 Design and construct stairs, ladders and walkways, as appropriate, following BS 5395-3 or BS 4211

Handrails For Stairs

For all buildings

1.34  Provide handrails following all of the following.

a.      Position the top of the handrail 900mm to 1000mm from the pitch line or floor.

b.     The handrail may form the top of a guarding if you can match the heights.

c.      If the stairs are 1000mm or wider: provide a handrail on both sides. If the width is less than 1000mm, a handrail must be fitted on at least one side.

 

For buildings other than dwellings and for common access areas in buildings that contain flats and do not have passenger lifts

1.35 Provide suitable continuous handrails, as dimensioned in Diagram 1.11 (for blocks of flats) and Diagram 1.12 (for buildings other than dwellings), in accordance with both of the following.

a.   On each side of the flights.

b.   On each side of the landings.

c.   Handrails should project 300mm from the end of the stair. (See Fig. 1.11 & 1.12)

 

For buildings other than dwellings

1.36 Provide handrails in accordance with all of the following (in addition to paragraph 1.34).

a.   Where there is full-height structural guarding if you provide a second (lower) handrail (such as in primary schools etc.), the vertical height from the pitch line of the steps (or the surface of the ramp) to the top of the second (lower) handrail should be 600mm.

b.   Use a continuous handrail along the flights and landings of a ramped or stepped flight.

c.   Ensure that handrails do not project into an access route.

d.   Ensure that the handrail will contrast visually with the background against which it is seen, without being highly reflective

e.   Use a surface for the handrail that is slip-resistant and which, in locations subject to extremely cold or hot temperatures, does not become excessively cold or hot to touch. In areas where resistance to vandalism or low maintenance are key factors, metals with relatively low thermal conductivity may be appropriate.

f.   Finish the end of the handrail in a way that reduces the risk of clothing being caught.

g.   Use the handrail profile shown in Diagram 1.13

h.   Handrails should be between 32mm to 50mm in diameter. (See Diagram 1.13)

i.   They should also be 50mm to 75mm away from the wall or surface to which they are fixed. (See Diagram 1.13)

 

In dwellings

1.37 In exceptional circumstances where severely sloping plots are involved, a stepped change of level within the entrance storey may be unavoidable. In those instances, if a flight comprises three or more risers, provide a suitable continuous handrail in accordance with both of the following.

a.   On each side of the flight.

b.   On each side of any intermediate landings.

Guarding of stairs

For all buildings

1.38 Design the guarding to be the height shown in Diagram 3.1.

1.39 In a building that may be used by children under five years of age, construct the guarding to a flight of stairs to do both of the following.

a.   Prevent children being held fast by the guarding: ensure that a 100mm sphere cannot pass through any openings in the guarding.

b.   Prevent children from readily being able to climb the guarding.

For buildings other than dwellings and for common access areas for buildings that contain flats

1.40 Provide guarding at the sides of flights and landings when there are two or more risers.

In dwellings

1.41 Provide guarding at the sides of flights and landings when there is a drop of more than 600mm

Section 2: Ramps

2.7 If the soffit beneath any ramp is less than 2m above floor level, protect the area beneath the ramp with one of the following.

a. Guarding and low-level cane detection.

b. A barrier giving the same degree of protection

Handrails for ramps

For buildings other than dwellings

2.11 Provide a handrail on both sides of the ramp and design them to comply with paragraph 1.36. (See above)

In dwellings and for common access areas in buildings that contain flats

2.12 Provide all of the following.

a. For ramps that are less than 1000mm wide: provide a handrail on one or both sides.

b. For ramps that are 1000mm or wider: provide a handrail on both sides.

c. For ramps that are 600mm or less in height: you do not need to provide handrails.

d. Position the top of the handrails at a height of 900mm to 1000mm above the surface of the ramp.

e. Choose handrails that give firm support and allow a firm grip.

f. The handrails may form the top of the guarding if you can match the heights.

Guarding of ramps

For all buildings

2.15 Provide guarding for ramps and their landings at their sides in the same way as stairs (see paragraphs 1.38–1.41) See above.

Requirement K2

Document K2 deals with the following requirement from Part K of Schedule 1 to the building regulations 2010:

K2. Requirement Protection from falling K2.

(a) Any stairs, ramps, floors and balconies and any roof to which people have access, and

(b) any light well, basement area or similar sunken area connected to a building,

shall be provided with barriers where it is necessary to protect people in or about the building from falling.

Siting of pedestrian guarding

For all buildings

3.1 Provide guarding in all of the following locations:

a.  where it is reasonably necessary for safety to guard the edges of any part of a floor (including the edge below an opening window), gallery, balcony, roof (including roof lights and other openings), any other place to which people have access, and any light well, basement or similar sunken area next to a building

b.  in vehicle parks.

NOTE: You do not need to provide guarding in the following locations: a. on-ramps used only for vehicle access b. in places such as loading bays where it would obstruct normal use.

Design of guarding

3.2 Guarding should be provided in accordance with all of the following.

a. Ensure that guarding is, as a minimum, the height shown in Diagram 3.1.

b. You can use any wall, parapet, balustrade or similar obstruction as guarding.

c. Ensure that guarding can resist, as a minimum, the loads given in BS EN 1991-1-1 with its UK National Annex and PD 6688-1-1.

d. Where glazing is used in the guarding, also refer to Section 5 in this approved document.

NOTE: Typical locations for guarding are shown in Diagram 3.2.

For further guidance on the design of barriers and infill panels, refer to BS 6180

3.3 In a building that may be used by children under five years of age during normal use, guarding should be constructed in accordance with both of the following.

a. To prevent children from being held fast by the guarding: ensure that a 100mm sphere cannot pass through any openings in the guarding.

b. To prevent children from readily being able to climb the guarding: avoid horizontal rails.

Guarding of areas used for maintenance

For all buildings

3.4 Where people will use the stairs or ladders to access areas for maintenance, they should comply with one of the following.

a. If access will be required frequently (e.g. a minimum of once per month): follow provisions such as those suggested for dwellings in this Approved Document (see Diagram 3.1).

b. If access will be required less frequently than once a month: it may be appropriate to use temporary guarding or warning notices. The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and the Work at Height Regulations 2005 give provisions for such measures.

3.5 Use signs as specified in the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996

Requirement K4

Document K4 deals with the following requirement from Part K of Schedule 1 to the building regulations 2010:

K4. Requirement – Protection against impact with glazing K4.

Glazing, with which people are likely to come into contact whilst moving in or about the building shall:

(a) if broken on impact, break in a way which is unlikely to cause injury; or

(b) resist impact without breaking, or

(c) be shielded or protected from impact.

Performance

In the Secretary of State’s view, you can meet requirement K4 if you adopt, in critical locations, one of the following approaches.

a. Measures to limit the risk of cutting and piercing injuries by the use of glazing that is reasonably safe, such that, if breakage did occur, any particles would be relatively harmless.

b. Use of glazing sufficiently robust to ensure that the risk of breakage is low.

c. Steps are taken to limit the risk of contact with the glazing.

Impacts with glazing, particularly glazing in doors and door side panels and at low levels in walls and partitions, can result in cutting and piercing injuries. For doors and door side panels, the risk is greatest for glazing between floor and shoulder level when near to door handles and push plates, especially when normal building movement causes doors to stick.

Hands, wrists and arms are particularly vulnerable. An initial impact at between waist and shoulder levels can be followed by a fall through the glazing, resulting in additional injury to the face and body.

In walls and partitions, away from doors, the risks relate predominantly to glazing at a low level. At that level, children are especially vulnerable.

Summary of K4 for Balustrades

K4 is primarily focused on glazing in windows and doors, but we can summarize the following points as relevant to balustrading:

  1. If glass is used in a balustrade, it must break safely. This means that the broken shards must not be sharp or pointed. The glass must also disintegrate into small detached particles. This ‘safe break’ pattern is achieved with toughened glass.
  2. Laminated glass, whilst not specifically stated described in this Document, will more completely fulfil this requirement for glass to break safely. This is because the laminate interlayer will maintain the glass barrier, and the broken glass particles will be held in place until the panel can be replaced.

Information is given as a guide and is not intended to be exhaustive. It remains the reader’s responsibility to take specific independent advice and comply with local legislation.

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