Handrail requirements

Updated February 21, 2017

A handrail can be important in residential as well as commercial construction. It adds a safety feature to stairs, making it safer for you to up and down. It can also be helpful to senior citizens by offering something to lean on when walking down corridors. OSHA has handrail regulations everyone must follow; however, building codes may vary with each specific community and state.

Building Codes

Learn the OSHA handrail regulations which can be found at sites like Westfire and Boomspeed. Go to your city or town hall and learn if there are any additional regulations required by your community.

Placement of Handrails

Install one handrail if the stairway is 44 inches or less wide. If the stairway is up to 88 inches wide, you must install handrails on either side of the stairway. If the stairway is more than 88 inches wide, you must install an intermediary handrail in the middle of the stairway. In other words, if your stairway is as wide as the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, you must have handrails that are equally spaced 88 inches apart.

The Length of Handrails

The handrail must be installed 30 to 37 inches above the stairs, according to OSHA guidelines. The handrail must run the entire length of the stairway in one piece, or continuously from top to bottom. The handrail must extend 12 inches beyond the foot and top of the stairs for a commercial building. The added length is not required with a residential building.

Handrail Width

The handrail needs to be a certain width according to building codes. The widest it can be for comfort and safety is 2 inches. Not only that, the handrail's surface should be perfectly smooth. Handrails should be spaced at least 1 1/2 inches from the wall; OSHA requires 3 inches.


The building code also dictates the spacing of the balusters that support the handrail. According to code, the balusters need to be no more that 19 inches apart, OSHA rules state

Weight Regulations

Build your handrail solidly enough so that it could support 90.7kg., no matter in which direction this weight was applied.

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About the Author

Marjorie Gilbert is a freelance writer and published author. An avid researcher, Gilbert has created an Empire gown (circa 1795 to 1805) from scratch, including drafting the gown's patterns by hand.