The British Woodworking Federation Group

Building Regulations Guidance for Stairs

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BWF Technical Director Kevin Underwood looks at the building regulations guidance for stairs in England and what may change to make stairs safer.


Stairs present one of the greatest risks of accidents in the built environment. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has presented figures that show that there are over 700 fatal falls on stairs every year and there are over 300,000 A&E attendances each year due to falls on stairs in the home. In fact, 84% of injuries on stairs occur in the home.

Research has shown that producing stairs that follow the guidance in the British Standard code of practice for the design of stairs (BS 5395-1:2010) could result in 60% fewer falls, saving many lives, reducing the burden on over stretched A&E departments, and limiting effects on people’s lives that a serious accident can bring.

The BWF has been contacted by the Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to be involved in a revision of Approved Document K (AD K) for Requirements K1 and K2. Approved Document K covers protection from falling, collision and impact in and around buildings. Requirement K1 states that stairs shall be so designed, constructed and installed as to be safe for people moving between different levels and Requirement K2 states that stairs shall be provided with barriers where it is necessary to protect people from falling.

The guidance given in AD K section K1 describes the layout of stairs giving the limits for rise and going, headroom heights, the width and length of flights, the layout of landings and the provision of handrails. The guidance in section K2 describes the performance recommendations for guarding (e.g. balustrade) and refers the reader to two Standards (BS EN 1991-1-1 and PD 6688-1-1) that provide the levels of loading the guarding is called upon to support, and a third standard, BS 6180, that gives guidance on the design of barriers and infill panels, including glass panels.

The content of BS 5395-1 was developed following research conducted by a team at the Building Research Establishment (BRE) that showed how stairs could be changed to reduce the number of accidents that occur on stairs including those that conform to the existing building regulations guidance. The key changes for private stairs that BS 5395-1 recommends are,

– Graspable handrails should be provided on each side of a stair
– The handrails should project 300mm beyond the top and bottom nosings
– The going on a winder flight should be consistent with the going of the straight flights
– The walking line of the winder should be centred on the newel post
– The minimum going for a private stair should be 250mm
– The maximum rise for a private stair should be 200mm
– The maximum pitch for a private stair will become 38.5 degrees
– The minimum clear width of a private stair, measured between handrails, is 800mm

These changes, if introduced into Approved Document K, will put pressure on Home Builders to dedicate more space to the stairway due to stairs becoming wider and longer. House designs will have to be revisited and, unless the plot size is increased, room sizes may need to be reduced.

As part of the DLUHC review team the BWF aims to work with the stair manufacturers and the home builders to develop the guidance in AD K and maximise the safety benefits of BS 5395-1 while minimising the impact on the home building industry that will also have an eye on the next tranche of changes already flagged by DLUHC to make homes more energy efficient in 2025.




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