Approved Document K is part of the 2010 UK Building Regulations. It relates to both domestic properties and places of work. The document is very wide-ranging and covers regulations relating to things like stairs, windows, doors, and balustrades.
To make the document easier to digest we’ve broken down some of the key points contained in it. However, this is by no means an exhaustive list of all of the information within it. Before beginning any building project you should always refer to the full document.
So, let’s take a look at the different sections of Approved Document K and how it applies to different areas of construction. We’ll also provide a brief breakdown of the regulations that relate specifically to balustrades.
The Reasons For Balustrade Regulations
The main reason for the balustrade regulations in Approved Document K is to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries. When there is a change of levels inside homes via ramps, stairs, or ladders this can lead to accidents occurring.
The building regulations in Document K are given so that these additions to homes can be designed in a way that helps to prevent accidents.
The essential aim of Approved Document K is to ensure that safety barriers are provided which prevent people from falling from balconies, landings, and other areas with exposed heights.
It also sets out building regulations for stair incline, stair height, stair width and other safety measures. It states that steps must be taken to make sure that the risk of impact accidents is reduced.
As with Approved Document B, which covers fire safety, years of research have gone into Approved Document K and its regulations need to be strictly followed.
It’s important to regularly check the document for further guidance as it’s regularly updated. This is due to changes in technology and advancements in construction techniques.
The Different Sections Of Approved Document K
Currently, the document consists of five parts that cover different areas of the regulations designed to protect people from height-related injuries.
The first section of the document deals with building regulations related to stairs, ladders and ramps. It gives provisions for how to ensure that people can move around safely when moving between different levels, rooms, and other buildings.
It states how stairs, ladders and ramps should be constructed in order to prevent falling and avoid injury.
This section of the Approved Document focuses specifically on protection from falling. It provides guidance on how to protect any access route and access point with balustrades, handrails and other measures to reduce falling risks.
The third section of the document covers regulations relating to loading bays and vehicle barriers. It may sometimes apply to domestic construction but mostly relates to public parking areas and industrial buildings.
The building regulations in this section stipulate that multi-level car parks must have vehicle barriers to stop cars from falling. They also state that loading bays must be protected to prevent loading vehicles and people from falling.
This section of the document specifically relates to regulations around open windows, ventilators and skylights. It details how to install them so that injuries to any people travelling externally or internally are avoided.
It specifies that they should be installed so that any person walking around a corner or into a room is not at risk of injury from any of these objects.
The last section of the Approved Document provides building regulations designed to make sure that doors and windows which open are installed in a way that prevents injury.
As these objects will protrude into or out of the building they must be installed in a manner that means people will not walk into them.
Building Regulations Related To Stairs
One of the parts of the document that tends to cause the most discussion and confusion is the section related to loft extensions, conversions and stairs. A loft conversion is more common than a loft extension in the UK due to costs.
When building loft conversions the existing footprint of the property is utilised and the shell of the room already exists.
The layout of the property will affect how access and stairs are installed. For instance, if the property has a hallway that isn’t essential to the way the property functions then this can be the ideal location for a stairway.
When positioning stairs, the main aim is to limit the amount of space that’s taken away from existing rooms. Typical locations for stairs include bedroom corners. However, the stairs may greatly reduce the size of the room and possibly even make it unusable.
When building a loft conversion the building work may include stairs running above the existing stairs. This is only possible in buildings that have a good landing and are already 2-storeys high.
Having a set of stairs above existing stairs can be a good way of avoiding head-height problems.
The specific building regulation in the document states that there must be a minimum head height of 2 metres above the stairs. There must also be a minimum head height of 2 metres when a person steps onto the landing and as a person walks across the landing.
It also specifies that the pitch line can’t exceed 42 degrees in a domestic dwelling.
In terms of loft conversions, there is some flexibility around the 2-metre head-height regulation. If there’s a sloping roof then the height between the roof and the floor is reduced as you move further down the slope.
To allow for this, the building regulations stipulate that the head height can be reduced to 1.9 metres and 1.8 metres. This can be done within the stair width half that lies under the sloped section of the roof. As stated, this is only allowed for loft conversions.
The K2 section of the document focuses on the different parts that are used to form a staircase. Some of these parts will be used in the construction of every type of staircase but some are optional depending on how and where it’s installed.
If a staircase is in an enclosed area and surrounded by walls then handrails and bannisters wouldn’t be necessary as the walls themselves would prevent people from falling.
The main parts that are used to construct staircases are:
- Balustrades or balusters: these are the upright structures that run between the handrail and base that stretches across the full length of the staircase.
- Handrail or bannister: these provide you with something to hold onto as you ascend and descend the stairs.A staircase with one open side must have a bannister or handrail on this side to prevent falling. A staircase that is wider than 1 metre or has two open sides must have a handrail or bannister on both sides.
- Newel post: these are the posts that sit at the top and bottom of a staircase. They keep the handrail rigid and give it support. The post at the top of the stairs is known as the Landing Newel and the one at the bottom is known as the Starting Newel.
- Carriage or string: this part of the staircase serves as the base structure and gives support to the risers and treads. It runs diagonally along the entire length of each side of the staircase.
- Risers: these are used for filling the open sections in between the treads. They also add strength to the treads. If the staircase has open risers then the treads will need to have enough strength to function without support from the risers.
- Treads: these are the sections of the staircase that you actually stand on.
- Nosing: these are the front sections of the treads. At times they will overhang the risers.
The document also details the different types of stairs that are most commonly found in UK homes. These are:
- Winder staircases: these staircases are constructed with different winding angles between levels. They usually feature a single 90˚ wind or two 90˚ wind resulting in a 180˚ turn.
- Straight staircases: these are the most common type of staircases and they are constructed in a straight line in between levels.
- Spiral staircases: these staircases are constructed around a circle in the centre and the stairs revolve around this in an ascending manner.
There are a wide variety of styles for each staircase type. They may also be constructed from a wide range of materials such as composite, oak, pine, stainless steel, wrought iron, glass, and other materials.
These are the staircases that the document refers to for domestic settings. When it comes to public buildings the regulations are different as it must be assumed that people using the staircases aren’t familiar with them.
The guidance around staircases in public buildings is regularly updated and amended. For this reason, you should always consult the latest version of Approved Document K before constructing staircases.
Landings For Staircases
Currently, the regulations in the Approved Document stipulate that all staircases are constructed with a landing at the bottom and the top. This is for safety and to enable adequate escape routes in emergencies.
The document stipulates that the landing needs to be at least as wide as the most narrow width of the stairs.
Existing floors within the property, such as ground floors that are met by the bottom of a staircase, can also be incorporated into landings. The landing area must also be free of any solid constructions or obstructions.
This particular building regulation allows for cupboards that open into the landing. However, they must be cupboards that are closed during everyday use. Also, when these cupboards are open there should still be a minimum of 400 mm of space in the landing area.
Stairs With Alternating Tread
Stairs with alternating treads can be used for certain loft conversions. They can only be used in situations where a staircase can’t be added that will satisfy the regulations in terms of pitch, width and the other specifications detailed in the document.
One of the conditions for constructing this type of staircase is that it can only provide access to a single room, bathroom, or toilet.
Stairs with alternating tread only have sections of full width on one side of each tread. This means that they can pose a greater risk of injury than other types of staircases. Due to this, they must have handrails on both sides of the staircase.
There are also stipulations within the document that this type of staircase must comply with:
- Each tread must have an anti-slip coating
- The nosing on each step should be parallel with the next step and each alternate step must be uniform
- There should be at least 2 metres of headroom
Open Windows, Ventilators and Skylights
The vast majority of buildings will have a ground-floor window, regardless of the use of the building. Generally, this window opens outwards.
The document states that if this window can be opened outwards by a greater distance than 100 mm then there must be a guard fitted underneath it. This is also the case if the window is less than 2 metres above the ground.
The guard must be fitted in order to prevent people from walking into it whilst it’s open.
The document also states that windows, skylights and ventilators must be able to be safely opened by anyone. They must also be able to be closed and adjusted safely by anyone.
If large panes of glass are installed such as in patio doors or screen doors then there must be markings to clearly indicate them. If people within the building are unable to identify that there is a glass barrier then this could easily lead to collision and injury.
The document states that the glass within these types of doors must either:
- Be completely resistant to impacts and not break at all
- Break in a way that prevents serious injury
- Be protected in such a way that there is no chance of an impact occurring
For this reason, laminated glass is often a good choice for these types of doors as it holds together when shattered and doesn’t break into small, broken glass particles.
Trapping Injuries Involving Doors
The regulations relating to this area are largely focused on industrial situations. However, they also apply to domestic situations broadly as they can be used to reduce the risk of injury in domestic settings as well.
The document stipulates that any upward-opening doors, including sliding doors, must be constructed to minimise the risks of the door falling on the user.
If powered doors and gates are installed then provisions must be taken to make sure that they can’t trap any users. During a power cut, they should also still be able to be opened.
Within a public building, if there are any doors within walkways then users should be able to see through to the other side. This is to enable them to see if another user is about to open the door from the other side.
The door’s leading edge will need to be fitted with a vision panel next to where you would push to open the door.
A Brief Breakdown Of Balustrade Regulations
Landings & flights
The regulations state that landings and flights must have guarding if there is a drop that exceeds 600 mm on either side. If there are two or more risers on a staircase then guarding will also be required.
Guarding in areas with access
In areas of public buildings to which people have access such as stairs and balconies balustrades or guarding must be provided. If balustrades would cause an obstruction to the normal use of an area then they are not required.
Also, if people don’t have access to a specific area then guarding or balustrades are not required.
The minimum height of a balustrade should be 1,100 mm from ground level. However, this is not always the case. For instance, for areas such as school atriums a 1,100 mm balustrade wouldn’t be a suitable height.
For more information on balustrade heights in all areas, you should refer to the tables provided in Approved Document K.
For maintenance areas that are accessed at least once a month there are stipulations relating to the required heights of balustrades in these areas. These vary widely depending on the type of area and you should refer to the tables provided in the document.
In maintenance areas that are accessed less than once a month permanent guarding may not be required. In these areas, warning signs and temporary guarding may suffice.
What are approved documents?
Approved documents are used to give guidance on how the government’s building regulations can be applied to common building situations. The Building Act of 1984 gives them legal status in the UK.
There are other ways in which the building regulations can be satisfied meaning there isn’t an obligation to adopt the precise solutions that are put forward in approved documents.
What’s the definition of building regulations?
Building regulations, also known as building control, are general standards and they apply to every building in the UK. They’re designed to ensure the safety of people who are in or around buildings.
These regulations are made up of a collection of approved documents that cover all aspects of building work.
How many steps can a staircase have before a landing is needed?
If the staircase has general access then there can be a maximum of 12 steps before the regulations require there to be a landing. For utility staircases, the allowance is 16 steps before a landing is required.
What were the changes to the 2013 version of Document K?
The main changes that were made to Document K in 2013 were:
- Approved Document N was amalgamated into Document K.
- Some of the guidance relating to impact, cleaning, and the opening of glazing contained in Approved Document M was amalgamated into Document K.
- Guidance on the use of and access to buildings was updated.
- Diagrams and tables were simplified and amended.
- No new technical requirements were added but a new format style was used.
- An index was introduced and updated key terms were included.
- Relating to the resistance loads of barriers a National Annex was introduced.
- Relating to testing methods and safe breaking references were updated to standard. This was required due to the harmonised standard.
This list is not exhaustive and you should refer to the document for the full list of changes and amendments.
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