Guards compliancy

Guards are common architectural structures we see every day but pay little or no attention to.

However, particularly for external stairs, their presence becomes more important in case of ice rain or when the surfaces become slippery (due to snow, wet surfaces, and humid leaves). Either the guards are architectural or esthetical or very simple, the guards are safety structures necessary to avoid falls and whose existence and compliance are underestimated.

The configuration of the guards is variable due to the different changes made in the regulations over the years. Some guards do not seem safe, but it does not mean that they are not compliant! But how to make a sense of all this?




Figure 1. Wrought iron stairs and guards (Montreal) (1)




It is common to see sinuous exterior stairs in front of Montrealer dwelling units of which the guards are only 36 inches (90 cm) high (1900 regulation of the City of Montreal applied from 1948 to 1993) and sometimes they are as low as 32 inches (81.28 cm). However, they are compliant since the regulation of that period permitted it.



Figure 2. Wrought iron guards 36 inches (90 cm) high (Montreal) (2)




Comparing, the guards of buildings built according to the requirements of the National Building Code of Canada 1985 (NBC 1985) had to have a height of 42 inches (1 070 mm the exact size). Moreover, the guards designed according to the NBC 1985 had to have balusters with spacing of 4 inches (100 mm) for residential buildings and of 8 inches (200 mm) for the other types; not considering the building size. In that period, there were no requirements for the guards’ concept permitting climbing.



Figure 3. Guards compliant to the NBC 1985 (3)



Guards concept with climbability restrictions will arrive later, that is, in the 1995 version of the National Building Code of Canada (NBC 1995). In this NBC version, the space within guards were limited to 4 inches (100 mm) for all occupancy except for industrial occupancy where the spacing of 8 inches (200 mm) remained.




Figure 4. Climbability Restrictions for Guards, NBC 1995 (4)




Over the years, we noticed that the regulation (and the NBC) is more and more restrictive and consequently safer.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that, against all odds, that within the last version of NBC (2015) published by the National Research Council Canada (NRCC), we will find an important amendment of the article for the design of the climbability restriction for guards. The amended article states that, for guards protecting a level less than 4.2 m above the adjacent level, the concept of guards not permitting climbability no longer applies.



Figure 5. Guards according to the NBC 2015 and draft construction regulation of the City of Montreal (5)




Not only the guards compliant to NBC 2015 protecting from falls of less than 4.2 m may be climbable as soon as the NBC 2015 amended QC is adopted by the Régie du Bâtiment du Québec, but will very soon be permitted for all buildings under City of Montreal jurisdiction with the adoption of the rearranged construction regulation (new version of the No. 11-018 regulation).

Despite the future amendments, although a fall of 4.2 m may inflict important injuries to a person, whether the person is an adult or a child. Will this concession in residential buildings increase personal injury claims to homeowners and their insurers? Only the future will tell us!

The concepts in this article are abbreviated to summarize changes in the regulation. Before you decide if staircases are compliant, consult an expert first.

By Jean-Philippe Parenteau, architect

Photographs :

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By |2019-06-14T16:40:22+00:00May 13th, 2019|News|0 Comments