Guard rail, guardrails, or protective guarding, in general, are a boundary feature and may be a means to prevent or deter access to dangerous or off-limits areas while allowing light and visibility in a greater way than a fence. Common shapes are flat, rounded edge, and tubular in horizontal railings, whereas tetraform spear-headed or ball-finialled are most common in vertical railings around homes. Park and garden railings commonly in metalworking feature swirls, leaves, plate metal areas and/or motifs particularly on and beside gates.
High security railings (particularly if in flat metal then a type of palisade) may instead feature jagged points and most metals are well-suited to anti-climb paint.
A handrail is less restrictive on its own than a guard rail and provides support.
Many 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 in the US are generally required by code where there is a drop of 30 inches (0.76 m) or more.
Examples of this are both architectural and environmental. Environmental guard rails are placed along hiking trails where adjacent terrain is steep. Railings may also be located at scenic overlooks.
Guard rails in buildings can be numerous, and are required by building codes in many circumstances. Handrails along stairways may be supported by balusters forming a balustrade, and catwalks (a type of footbridge) and balconies are also lined with them. An example of a common residential guard rail (US) handrail (Brit.) is a wood railing around a deck or patio. In the US this is typically built on-site from pressure treated lumber thus featuring a simplistic design of vertical baluster spaced every 3.5″ demonstrating compliance with Building Codes (Standards).
Cable railings typically use stainless steel cables strung horizontally. Glass balusters and glass panels open the view while still providing safety, as at the Grand Canyon Skywalk. With the increasing popularity of composite lumber for decking, manufacturers, like TimberTech are providing composite railing components. Wrought iron is another choice that is traditional and sturdy. Decorative examples are considered ironwork.
Building codes also require that no opening in a guard be of a size such that a 4″ sphere may pass. There are three exceptions according to the 2003 International Building Code Section 1012.3 which allow openings to not exceed 8″ or 21″ depending on occupancy groups or special areas.
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