One of the most frequently asked questions about glass balustrades is whether or not they need a handrail – or, more specifically, a continuous handrail.
It might surprise you to know that glass balustrades don’t always need a handrail. It depends on factors such as the application area, and the type of glass and fixtures used.
Here’s what you need to know about glass balustrade handrails and compliance with UK Building Regulations for their installation.
What are the safety requirements for glass balustrades?
Typically, the main purpose of a glass balustrade is to serve as a protective barrier, preventing people from tripping or falling when there is a change in floor levels.
They can be integrated anywhere you like as a design feature, but balustrades of any material are legally required when there are more than 2 steps or a change in levels of more than 380mm.
Approved Document K sets out the minimum dimensions required for different settings. Meanwhile, the load distribution requirements according to building occupancy type can be found in Approved Document B and BS EN 1991-1 (Parts 1 and 4).
When it comes to glass balustrades specifically, there are certain thickness requirements for different uses. For example, single-layer toughened glass panels, which must be a minimum of 10mm thick, must not be more than 1.1m wide.
There will need to be posts in between the panels to secure them in place, and likely a handrail along the top that will remain in place even if the toughened glass breaks.
If you would prefer a frameless glass balustrade with a seamless look and ‘invisible’ channel profile, this glass should be no less than 15mm thick – but is a handrail still necessary for this type?
Do glass balustrades need a continuous handrail?
Whether your glass balustrades need a continuous handrail, or any handrail at all, depends on the type of glass and installation. According to BS 6180:2011, a handrail is required by law wherever the barrier protects a floor level difference of 600mm or more.
A continuous fixing method should be used to secure the handrail to the glass, with individual fixings only used if tests have proved that the components will not fail.
However, as per Section 8.5.2, these measures aren’t compulsory if the balustrades are made from toughened laminated glass, which can remain ‘in situ’ without a handrail.
Unlike standard glass panels, laminated glass features two layers stuck together with an interlayer, which holds the pieces in place if the glass breaks. Whereas a single layer of thinner glass would need a handrail to maintain part of the barrier if the glass shattered and fell, a cracked sheet of toughened laminated glass would stay where it is.
In summary, you should always use a handrail for glass balustrades when they protect a difference of 600mm between floor levels – unless the glass specification used ensures that the panel will remain in place by itself even if the glass breaks.
What about frameless glass balustrades?
What all of the above means is that if you want to use frameless glass balustrades as a safety barrier, you must make sure to use toughened laminated glass at least 15mm thick, which would comply with the regulations and not require a handrail or support posts.
Of course, you still need to make sure that the frameless balustrades can withstand the minimum required loads for their intended installation, whether this is indoors or outside, along a staircase or a balcony, etc. This is the responsibility of the individual or hired contractor, who should research carefully before purchasing the correct toughened glass balustrade panels and fixtures.
When ordering glass balustrades from a trusted supplier, you can always enquire about technical details including the suitability of their products for certain installations, and for recommendations on suitable fixtures and fittings. You’re sure to find examples of glass styles and installation types in their photo gallery, too!