Standards for Handrails

There are federal guidelines for the placement of handrails.
There are federal guidelines for the placement of handrails. (Image: outdoor night stairs with metallic handrails image by d_j_ang0 from

Handrails on stairways need to be placed at specified heights. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) have set guidelines for people to follow when putting handrails in residences or other buildings. Handrails need to be fastened tightly to the wall or whatever structure is near where the handrail is fastened.

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ADA Requirements

The ADA requires that handrails be between 34-38 inches from the surface of the stairs. The posts or uprights attached to the handrails should be no more than 8 feet apart from the middle of each post. The posts and handrail makings need to be 1 1/4" - 1 1/2" according to Schedule 40 (a type of pipe). The space between the handrail and the wall must be 1 1/2". The handrail must be continuous. The ends of the handrail need to be smoothed out. Handrails shall not rotate within the fittings, so you should screw into a handrail bracket which doesn't allow for rotations. The holes need to be drilled in the handrail to attach to the handrail bracket.

The requirements for floors or platforms that are 4 feet or more above ground level include making sure the area is guarded by a standard railing on all open sides, except where an entrance to a ramp, stairway, or fixed ladder exists. The handrail needs to exist where people can pass, and not located where moving machinery is present or where falling materials could create a hazard. Wherever there are tools, machine parts, or materials likely to be used on the runway, a toe board shall also be provided on each exposed side. Regardless of the height, open-sided floors, walkways, platforms or runways above or next to anything dangerous shall be guarded with the standard handrails.

OSHA Requirements

Any flight of stairs with four or more risers shall have standard stair railings or standard handrails. The stair width is measured clear of any and all obstructions except handrails on stairways. Stairways under 44 inches wide and where one side is enclosed will have a handrail on the enclosed side. On stairways less than 44 inches wide where both sides are enclosed, there must be at least one handrail attached. On stairways less than 44 inches wide with one open side, a handrail shall be attached on the open side, and on stairways less than 44 inches wide with both sides open, two handrails need to be erected (one for each side). On stairways more than 44 inches wide but less than 88 inches, one handrail needs to be built in the middle of the staircase, along with one handrail on each side.

Standard Stair Railing Construction

A "standard stair railing" shall be of a construction like a standard railing but the vertical height shall not be more than 34 inches or fewer than 30 inches from the upper surface of the rail to the surface of the tread on the stairways with the face of the riser at the forward edge of the tread. The standard handrail needs to be a lengthwise member mounted directly on a wall or partition by way of brackets attached to the lower side of the handrail to make sure you have a smooth, unobstructed surface along the top and both sides of the handrail. The handrail should be 3 inches from the wall with no more than 8 feet between handrails. On winding staircases, there shall be a handrail that will prevent people from walking on any portion of the tread where the width is under 6 inches.


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