Handrails, guard rails or balusters can all be called railings. A handrail is railing that is designed to be grasped by the hand so as to provide stability or support. Handrails help prevent injurious falls when ascending or descending stairways and escalators. Bathroom handrails give support on slippery, wet floors. Handrails are typically supported by posts or mounted directly to walls. In the United States, various model codes for safety and accessibility standards define handrail dimensions, clearances and strength in public areas and buildings.
A baluster, spindle or stair stick is a molded shaft made of stone, wood or metal. Several of these balusters lined up in evenly spaced succession form the handrail (banister) of a staircase or support the coping of a parapet. A line of balusters form a balustrade. The word ‘banister’ also refers to the balusters of a stairway, but implies a more modern, narrower support to a handrail than the traditional baluster. On its own, a baluster shaft may take the form of a brass or silver candlestick, an upright furniture support, or the stem of a brass chandelier, etc.
Historically, balusters are shaped or “turned” on a woodworker’s lathe or a potter’s wheel. The modern baluster shafts are formed in several ways: wood and stone can be shaped on the lathe, while concrete, plaster, iron, and plastics are usually formed by molding and casting. Turned patterns or old examples are used for the molds. Modern materials used to make balusters include cast iron, wrought iron, cast stone, hard and soft woods, plaster, polymer stone, polyurethane and polystyrene.
Guard rail or guardrail, sometimes referred to as guide rail or railing, is a system designed to keep people or vehicles from (in most cases unintentionally) straying into dangerous or off-limits areas. A handrail is less restrictive than a guard rail and provides both support and the protective limitation of a boundary.
Most public spaces are fitted with guard rails as a means of protection against accidental falls. Any abrupt change in elevation where the higher portion is accessible makes a fall possible. Due to this responsibility and liability, rails are placed to protect people using the premises. Guardrails are generally required by code where there is a drop of 30″ or more.
Examples of this are environmental guard rails placed along hiking trails where adjacent terrain is steep, and railings located at scenic overlooks. Guard rails in buildings are required by building codes in many circumstances. Guard rails along stairways are common, and catwalks and balconies are also lined with them.
Building codes also require that guardrails should have no opening that will allow a 4-inch sphere to pass through. The guard rails of an observation tower such as the Space Needle or the Eiffel Tower can be exaggerated. This is also done on bridges and overpasses to prevent accidents and suicides.
Guardrails are used in facilities to protect a company’s assets, including their people and expensive equipment. A standard guardrail system is mounted to the floor by base plates, which are fastened with anchor bolts. Each guardrail system also includes posts that are commonly fabricated from steel. These posts are often pre-drilled by the manufacturer and include the hardware for installation.
Standard galvanized steel systems (specifically 12-gauge) provide durability and are often fabricated in curved, 90-degree variations for traffic areas. Other variations include cylindrical steel rails and flatter rails that feature ribbing. For indoor and outdoor areas, railings are typically painted OSHA yellow. The type and quantity of intermediate rails varies according to the application requirements. For instance, a railing can consist of one to three rails and the rails may be coated with UV resistant polyurethane sleeves
In traffic engineering, guardrails prevent vehicles from veering off the roadway into oncoming traffic, crashing against solid objects, or falling into a ravine. A secondary objective is keeping the vehicle upright while deflected along the guardrail. The problem with this is that a guardrail of the optimum height for a car might not keep a truck from toppling over it, while a motorbike might slip under a higher rail.
In most cases, guardrails would not be able to withstand the impact of a vehicle just by the strength of the individual posts. Instead, the guardrail is effectively one strong band that transfers the force of the vehicle to multiple posts beyond the impact area or into a ground anchor at the end of the guardrail. Newer concrete barriers, while usually strong enough to withstand direct hits by cars, still work on a similar principle in deflecting heavier vehicles such as trucks.
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