How much do you think it costs to install a handrail on a staircase or ramp? A few hundred dollars, maybe a thousand if you’ve chosen premium materials? If you fail to install one, however, and your local Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) body finds out, you could be liable for tens of thousands of dollars. This is because the primary purpose of a handrail is to improve the safety of the staircase, ramp or balcony area. Find more information on safety below.

Marsden341Bou-Mernda18-9220General Safety

The main purpose of a handrail is, generally, to provide a handhold or support to prevent falls. They also serve as a handhold in case someone manages to trip or slip in a high place. There are a number of OH&S guidelines that all types of handrail must comply with, including:

  • It must consist of a lengthwise member mounted directly on a wall or partition (with the use of brackets, attached to the lower side of the rail);
  • It must not be less than 30 inches or more than 34 inches from their upper surface to the surface of the tread;
  • It must have brackets that provide a clearance of at least 3 inches between the rail and the wall (or any other projection);
  • It must be at least 1 and a half inches in diameter (only when constructed out of metal pipe);
  • It must be at least 2 inches in diameter (only when constructed out of hardwood); and
  • It must be rounded so that it is easy for people to grasp it.


Stairway Safety

OH&S requires at least one handrail to be installed for staircases that contain at least four risers or that are at least 30 inches high. There are a number of guidelines that handrails used for staircases must comply with, including:

  • Staircases that are less than 44 inches wide and have open sides must have a railing on each side;
  • Stairways that are less than 44 inches wide and have enclosed sides must have a descending railing on the right hand side;
  • Staircases that are greater than 44 inches but less than 88 inches wide must have a railing on each enclosed and open side;
  • Stairways that are greater than 88 inches wide must have a railing on each enclosed and open side;
  • Handrails that are built for temporary purposes must have a minimum clearance of 3 inches between walls and other projections; and
  • The top edge of the railing should not be more than 37 inches high nor less than 36 inches from the tread.


With falls being a leading cause of injury in the workplace and the home, it’s essential that you have correctly installed handrails wherever they are required. After all, shouldn’t the safety of your family, employees and visitors take precedence over saving a few dollars? If your staircase is being installed by a professional, you can rest assured that they won’t sign off on the project until it has an appropriate handrail installed.

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