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Compliance is Key. Here are the top four compliance issues we identify in fire stairs.

The FTI Design Team frequently receives requests for compliance guidance regarding fire stair cores and handrails. Here are the top four compliance issues they have identified when assessing fire cores, stairs, and handrails.

1. One Tread Offset & Handrail Height Consistency.

In line with the NCC & AS1428.1-2009, handrails must maintain a consistent height across stair flights, landings, and transitions. Refer to the excerpts below.

NCC 2022 Section D3D22 Clause 1(e) & (f)
(e) be continuous between stair flight landings and have no obstruction on or above them that will tend to break a hand-hold; and
(f) in a required exit serving an are required to be accessible, be designed and constructed to comply with clause 12 of AS1428.1, except that clause 12(d) does not apply to a handrail required by (1)(c)(ii). 

AS1428.1-2009 Clause 12(e)
(e) The height of the top of the handrail, measured in accordance with Item d, shall be consistent through the ramp(or stairs) and any landings. 

AS1428.1-2009 Clause 12(c)
(c) Handrails shall have no vertical sections and shall follow the angle of the stairway nosings, as shown in Figure 28(b)

To achieve this, the minimum landing length from the face of the first riser of the upper flight to the adjacent wall or any obstruction, must equal at least 1 tread going width plus 1000mm (excluding any handrail to outside of the landing or other obstructions such as hydrants etc.). Refer to the figures below.


AS14281-2009 Clause 11.2 Figure 28

NCC 2019 Figure D2.20

2. Handrail Heights.

Designing handrails at the maximum allowable height according to the Code, (which is 1000mm) may seem a safe option, but it’s not good industry practice and can lead to non-compliance due to surface irregularities onsite. The Code mandates handrails to be 865 – 1000mm high for compliance, with no tolerance specified.

Often, we see the handrail designed and manufactured at 1000mm, which seems accurate on paper. However, once onsite it is a different story. The slab, landing and/or stair flight surface only has to undulate slightly due to poor finishing and the handrail becomes immediately over the 1000mm which is then deemed non-compliant due to the handrail being over the maximum allowable height.

To mitigate this risk, it’s recommended to design handrails at a height of 900mm to allow for compliance tolerance. Taking this proactive stance will prevent engaging in expensive and time-consuming discussions, seeking performance solutions, and the possibility of redesigning the stair itself. Additionally, it helps avoid very expensive onsite rectification costs.

3. Transition Zone.

According to the NCC, wherever a landing exceeds 500mm in length, the barrier/handrail needs to be a minimum of 1000mm in height. Refer to the excerpts below.

The FTI proprietary handrail system is pre-set to 900mm high, therefore, in instances where the handrail on the stairs (900mm high) runs into the required 1000mm high barrier handrail on the landings, a consistent height cannot be maintained. Refer to the excerpts below.

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

  • FTI Group consider the length of the landings to be measured in one direction only (not measured around the landing). Refer to the figure below.

  • In the case of a ‘fire isolated stair,’ the highlighted issue may not pose a concern, and a simple ‘transition zone’ could be deemed acceptable as per the NCC. Refer to the excerpt below.
NCC 2022 Section D3D18 Height of Barriers Clause 2 (b) 'a transition zone may be incorporated where the barrier height changes from 865 mm on a stair flight or ramp to 1 m at a landing or floor'
  • If the corresponding stair is in a required exit serving an area require to be accessible, the handrail construction is to comply with Clause 12 of AS1428.1-2009, except that of Clause (d). Clause (e) states ‘The height of the top of the handrail, measure in accordance with item (d), shall be consistent through the ramp (or stairs) and any landings.
  • FTI advises against uniformly increasing handrail heights to 1000mm. This is due to the absence of tolerance provisions above or below the specified heights (865 – 1000mm) in the Codes. Should the stair be installed to the wrong RL or if there is any undulation in the slab or landing it can result in non-compliance if the handrail exceeds 1000mm, the maximum allowable height.

 

SOLUTIONS

Proceed with a simple ‘transition zone’ if acceptable as per the NCC. Refer to the excerpts and examples below.

Note: should there not be enough clearance available on the landing, a vertical element may need to be introduced into the transition zone.

Alternatively, you may opt to install a minimum 1000mm high barrier at the landing accompanied by a 900mm high grab rail positioned at the front. This setup seamlessly integrates with the 900mm high handrail on the stair flight, ensuring consistency in accordance with AS1428.1-2009 Clause 12 (e). Note: this option may result in additional costs.

  

By incorporating either a ‘transition zone’ or a 1000mm high barrier with a 900mm grab rail, where appropriate and in accordance with the relevant Code requirements, you can mitigate the need for expensive and time-consuming discussions, performance solutions, and potential stair redesigns.

4. Tread Going Width.

Many stair designers adhere strictly to the Code’s minimum requirements for tread goings, set at 250mm for public stairways and 240mm for private stairways. However, this practice is not considered optimal within the industry. Despite allowing for variation between adjacent goings and overall, the Code lacks any specified tolerance for dimensions below the stipulated 250mm for public stairways and 240mm for private stairways, as outlined in the provided excerpt.

Commonly observed issues include stair flights being installed too high at the top or too low at the bottom due to landings being set at incorrect heights. This misalignment tilts the stair, resulting in tread goings measuring below the required 250mm for public stairways and 240mm for private stairways, rendering them non-compliant.

To ensure compliance and avoid potential challenges, it is recommended to design stairs with a tread going measurement exceeding the Code’s minimum requirements. For instance, consider a minimum of 255mm for public stairways and 245mm for private stairways. Even a modest increase of 2mm can significantly enhance compliance tolerance. This proactive approach helps prevent costly and time-consuming discussions, eliminates the need for performance solutions, reduces the risk of stair redesigns, and minimises expensive onsite costs associated with adjusting rises if they fall below the minimum requirements.

Tools to help you.

We recognise that the Building Code of Australia (BCA) and the National Construction Code (NCC) can sometimes be unclear and confusing due to the complexity, vague language, evolving standards, performance-based approaches, and varying interpretations of the codes.

To assist you in understanding and applying the codes to stairs and railings, we have invested in design tools specifically designed for this purpose. These tools will help you interpret and navigate the codes easier, ensuring compliance and clarity in your stair and railing designs.

Fast Tread® Handrail & Stair Guidelines.

We have developed a set of fundamental compliance guidelines to assist our clients in identifying potential compliance issues before manufacturing and construction begin. These guidelines are outlined based on our understanding and interpretation of the BCA/NCC and Australian Standards.

Download your copy here.

Fast Tread® BIM Content.

We understand the challenges of modelling and documenting in Autodesk Revit, so we have invested in developing a comprehensive suite of highly parametric Revit Content specifically for Fast Tread® stairs and handrails.

Our Revit Content is designed to streamline the modelling and documentation process, significantly reducing the time and effort required. But it doesn’t stop there. Our Fast Tread® Revit Content goes beyond mere convenience. It incorporates embedded design guidelines that help interpret and apply Australian Standards and the NCC to railings and stairs.

Download your copy here.

Compliance Mark-up by the FTI Design Team.

The Compliance Mark-up involves a full compliance review of the Architectural drawings to identify and flag any actual or potential compliances issues with regards to the stairs and handrail based on our interpretation of the BCA/NCC & Australian Standards and as outlined in the Fast Tread® Handrail & Stair Compliance Guidelines.

For more information on the compliance of FTI products call the FTI Design Team on 1300 751 701 or email design@ftigroup.com.au.

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