When designing a staircase for a new home or office building, often the aesthetics are more important than the staircase safety requirements. Home and building owners are sometimes ill informed or innocently ignorant to the fact that a staircase is the means of transporting you SAFELY from one level to another. Although, all too often do we come across building owners who would like to see for example, a floating staircase without a balustrade purely for aesthetic reasons, causing serious safety risks to those utilising the building. According to the South African National Standards, any flight of steps which contains more than three risers shall have protection on both sides provided by a secure wall, screen railing or balustrade which shall be not less than 1 metre high and so erected that any such wall, screen, railing or balustrade in any occupancy classified as E2, E3, E4, H1, H2, H3, H4 or H5 shall consist of at least a handrail and one other rail midway between such handrail and the stair tread (according to SANS 10400-A Table 1). The balustrade load ratings differ in the various occupancy classifications for instance, in a residential dwelling the balustrades need to withstand 1.5Kn/m and ensuring that nowhere in the balustrade system there is a gap of more than 100mm. The load is different in office buildings, shopping centres and places of mass gathering. Your qualified balustrade contractor should be able to point out these load ratings for various occupancy classifications. There are various ways that a staircase can be designed to provide not only the aesthetic values of the client but also to ensure that it is structurally sound and built for the task it is meant for. Here are five ways in ensuring your staircase is safe for those utilising your building:
Make sure the staircase is built to comply with SANS
Normally, home and building Owners are restricted to a budget on a new building project and sometimes only look at the bottom line of their new staircase quote. It is important to remember that a staircase and the balustrades that are fixed to the staircase are structural elements of your building project and you need to ensure that your new staircase has been designed and signed off by a professional structural engineer. On completion of the staircase and balustrade project, you need to receive a Form 3 that indicates that a professional structural engineer has checked and signed off the structural values of your staircase. Qualified staircase and balustrade contractors that manufacture their products according to the SANS regulations will not hesitate to provide you with this sign off.
Select balustrades for safety and not only for aesthetic reasons
The drawings below, indicate how balustrades can be selected to make the staircase safer than what is normally considered safe by SANS.
Fig. A indicates a post and rail balustrade top fixed to the staircase treads, whereby the gap from the nose of the tread to the first intermediate rail is less than 100mm, however there still remains a gap larger than 100mm below the nose of the tread and although this is considered safe and legal, in order to make this situation even safer, you could consider instructing your builder to cast a concrete up stand on the sides of the staircase, as in Fig. B, in order for the balustrade contractor to fix the balustrades to. This will eliminate any gaps more than 100mm. Alternatively you could select a side fixed balustrade option as in Fig. C, whereby the fixing points are on the side of the staircase. This enables the intermediate rails to be placed lower than the nose of the tread, ensuring an even smaller gap and making the staircase safer for those utilizing the staircase. Often there are small babies and dogs to take into consideration when building a new staircase and the above three ways enable a safer pathway for these situations.
Texture of treads
When designing your new staircase it is essential to understand who exactly will be using the stairs. If you have elderly people using the stairs, you will need to ensure that the treads are of such materials that enable good grip when climbing the stairs e.g. timber or tiled. It is sometimes beneficial to add slip resistant strips or mats to the treads. Simple Vastrap treads are good options for outdoor staircases as they prevent slipping in wet weather conditions. Glass treads have become very fashionable in contemporary designs however these treads are not a good solution for outdoor conditions and tend to be more slippery than traditional indoor, timber, stone or tiled treads.
By adding lighting to your staircase, you are adding an additional safety factor to the stairs. Users will find it easier to navigate a staircase, especially in the dark, if there is lighting provided. Staircase lighting has become a popular design element in any staircase design and this can be done in many creative ways to construct more interest in the overall look and feel of the staircase.
Additional wall mounted handrail
SANS clearly state that a staircase that is wider than 1.1m with a wall on one side and a balustrade on the other, requires an additional wall mounted handrail as the staircase is too wide for the person utilising the staircase to grab onto the balustrade if he/she is travelling on the wall side of the staircase. Lastly. Never clutter your staircase with decorations and items that could compromise the staircase safety. Always ensure that your staircase and balustrade contractor has a proven track record and that they will install a staircase that is structurally sound together with proof that it has been designed and signed off by a professional structural engineer. This will ensure your safe journey up and down your beautiful new staircase, for years to come.