This article aims to cover Staircase regulations for Scotland.
It is based on the Scottish Government Building Standards technical handbook 2017: domestic buildings.
We have taken every care to accurately convey the essential content of the regulations, but you should always check the handbook for details and consult with your local authority Building Standards department before commencing construction.
Stairway Accidents In The UK
Stairways account for 50% of accidental falls around and within buildings, with young children and elderly people most at risk. Therefore, building regulations for staircases, whether interior or exterior, private or public, are very precise and detailed, covering aspects of dimensions, pitch, headroom, landing space and more.
There are some differences between regulations in Scotland and England, e.g relating to rise and going of treads, so always check the Scottish Government Building Standards technical handbook for specific Scottish legislation construction in Scotland.
Also, standards can differ between private and public stairs (eg private staircases may be steeper than public staircases), as the assumption is that inhabitants of a dwelling will use a private staircase frequently and be familiar with it.
All steps should always be level.
Private staircase refers to stairs not used by the public, including those inside a domestic dwelling and those outside but not generally accessible to the public – e.g. stairs to an area of private land.
Public staircase refers to stairs used by the public, i.e. any external stair that forms a part of an accessible route to the dwelling.
Nosing:the part of a tread protruding beyond the riser (or beyond the back of the tread below, if angled risers or no risers are used.)
Tapered tread: where the nosing is not parallel to the nosing or landing above, eg spiral staircase.
Going: the tread, measured front to back, excluding any overhang from tread above.
Rise: distance between top of one tread and top of the next one. The Total Rise is the vertical distance between the floors connected by a staircase.
Pitch: the angle or rake of the stairs – the ratio between the rise and the going, expressed as an angle.
Flight: part of a stair or ramp uninterrupted by a landing.
Note: standards differ between private and public stairs (eg private staircases may be steeper than public staircases), as the assumption is that inhabitants of a dwelling will use a private staircase frequently and be familiar with it.
All rises in any flight must be the same height and between 100 mm and 220 mm. Minimum for going is 225 mm and tread must not be less than going. Maximum pitch is 42°
Please note significant differences in specification from private stairs.
All rises in any flight must be the same height and between 100 mm and 170 mm. Minimum for going is 250 mm and tread must not be less than going. Maximum pitch is 34°
In all cases, private and public, the maximum pitch may not be exceeded, even when pitch and rise specifications fall within specifications. Keep rise and tread within moderate limits, as 2x rise + going must fall between 550 mm and 700 mm.
Tapered treads must provide a minimum going of 50 mm at the narrow end in all cases.
In any flight with mixed straight and tapered threads, the going of the tapered treads must match or exceed the going of the straight treads.
Differences between English and Scottish specifications are 5mm for going of a private stair and 20mm for rise of a public stair: more than enough to have a staircase condemned, so always check Scottish Government specifications:
- Minimum going of a private stair is 225 mm in Scotland, vs 220 mm in England
- Maximum rise of a public stair is 170 mm in Scotland, vs 190 mm in England
The default safe standard to work to for private and public stairs is 1 metre unobstructed width, measured between handrails (or walls, where there are no handrails.) Exceptions are made in certain circumstances:
900 mm between storeys or 600 mm if it serves only sanitary accommodation and/or one other room, except living room or kitchen.
800 mm if a handrail is fitted to the continuous length both sides
900mm for an external flight if it serves only a single dwelling.
In any case, newel posts and stringers should not project more than 30 mm into the effective width of the staircase.
There are specific regulations governing the construction and installation of stairlifts.
Rises per flight
Staircases should be designed for people to rest on landings, not flights.
Therefore, flights should generally have between 3 and 16 rises.
Fewer than 3 rises may be permitted:
- between an external door of a building and the ground, porch, private garage, conservatory or balcony
- wholly within an apartment of a dwelling unless it affects provision of an enhanced apartment
- wholly within sanitary accommodation, but not accessible sanitary accommodation
- between a landing and an adjoining level where the route of travel from the adjoining level to the next flight changes direction through 90°
Treads and risers
Risers in all stairs should be profiled to minimise tripping as shown below in the Scottish Government Technical Handbook.
Step profile examples
There is a general presumption against open risers in public staircases, for safety and accessibility reasons, unless the staircase is only for descent, e.g a dedicated escape stair.
Nosings should be contrasted to identify tread edges.
Private stairs may be constructed with open risers and without contrasting nosings as occupants will be more familiar with the stair through frequent use. In such cases, treads must overlap by at least 15mm. A 100mm sphere must not be able to pass between any opening between treads.
There must be a landing between every flight of stairs, except:
Where the change in level is 170mm or less
At an external door, not an accessible entrance, that opens or slides inwards if the total rise is 600mm or less.
Landings must measure no less than 1.2 metres, or at least as wide as the effective width of the stair flight, if that is less.
Landings must be level except for minimum gradient to allow for drainage on external stairs or maximum 1:20 at ground level only.
Landings should be free of obstruction by door swing. Exceptions exist for private stairs:
On top landings, cupboard or duct door must leave minimum 400mm clear space across the whole landing
On bottom landings, a door must leave minimum 400mm clear space across the whole landing.
Take care in all cases that any space designated in future for a stair lift is not encroached.
If tactile paving is used on external stair landings, the minimum length should be 1.2m
If an external stair serves more than one dwelling, a corduroy tactile paving surface is required at the foot and head of each flight to alert people with visual impairment of the change of level.
A strip 800mm deep should be installed at 400mm from the first step, as per Scottish Government Technical Handbook diagram below:
Where a landing area is common to a ramp and steps, take care to site tactile paving outside the ramp landing area, to avoid disorientation.
Outward-opening fully-glazed doors
If the entrance to a conservatory or extension is designated the accessible entrance, you must follow the appropriate Scottish Government Standard 4.1 guidance.
Otherwise, if such an entrance has a fully-glazed, outward-opening door, the landing should be in accordance with guidance as above in this section 2.5 and the diagram below.
Mixed flights: straight and tapered
All tapered treads on any stair must conform to BS 585: Part 1: 1989, Appendices B1 and B3, with guarding as per guidance in Scottish Government Technical Handbook, clause 4.4.2.
The going of the tapered treads should measure the same or more than the straight treads and should be of uniform size, with the inner end a minimum of 50mm.
If the flight measures less than 1m in width, the going should be measured at the centreline of the flight, as per sections 2.1 and 2.2, above. Where the flight is over 1m wide, going of the tread should be measured as per sections 2.1 and 2.2, above, at 270mm from each end, with the minimum matching or exceeding the going of the straight treads.
All-tapered-tread flights must conform to BS 5395: Part 2: 1984.
In addition, rise should conform to the specifications given here at section 2.1; width should comply with the specifications given here at section 2.2; maximum rises should not exceed specifications given here at section 2.3; treads and risers should comply with section 2.4 of this document, all above.
Specifications for handrails is give below, in section 4, while recommendations for handrails are given below, in section 4 and in the Scottish Government Technical Handbook, clause 4.4.2.
Ramps may be constructed with a maximum gradient of 1 in 12.
Maximum length of ramp relates to the gradient and rise, as per the table below, from the Scottish Government Technical Handbook:
Width of ramps
Minimum width of a ramp should be 1m, measured between handrails, or protective barrier, wall or guarding kerb in the absence of a handrail.
Where use is, or is to be, more frequent, sufficient space should be constructed to accommodate two wheelchairs to pass easily and in safety.
All ramps should be free of all obstructions.
Ramp landings should adhere to the requirements of stair landings, as described above in section 2.5, except that the unobstructed length must be 1.5m or more and intermediate landings, where the entire length of the ramps is not visible from the top or bottom, should measure a minimum of 1.8m wide, to allow passing places.
Generally, it is good practice to install handrails on both sides of a ramp or stair flight.
Handrails are mandatory on both sides for any flight of stairs with a rise of over 600mm or a ramp with a length longer than 2m.
A ramp may omit handrails if it serves a single dwelling and the rise is under 600mm
A handrail may be fitted to one side only on a private stair flight. In this case, provision should be made for installation of a second handrail in future, if required. This second handrail should allow a clear width of 800mm when installed.
The following diagram, from the Scottish Government Technical Handbook, summarises the measurement requirements for handrails.
Private stairs and ramps to a single dwelling must ensure that handrails protrude sufficiently and be of a shape to afford a firm grip.
For all other stairs and ramps, extensions to the handrail at the start and finish of a stair are essential to allow users to a handhold before stepping onto the flight. They also assist visually-impaired people to discern the start and finish of a flight.
Handrails must protrude sufficiently and be of a shape to afford a firm grip, and, unless adjoining a newel post, should extend 300mm beyond each end of the flight, as shown below in this diagram from the Scottish Government Technical Handbook.
Ends – handrails should be finished with scrolls, wreaths or similar, to ensure hands or clothing are not caught and must contrast to ensure easy visibility against nearby surfaces.
Any stair or ramp measuring over 2.3m wide must be divided to form sections of width between 1.1m and 1.8m wide, unless it is a stair joining the entrance door to ground level and not part of an escape route.
Handrail height should be between 840mm and 1.0m from the landing level and pitch line for stairs and ramps.
There should be 2.0m headroom at all points along the length and effective width of a staircase and landings, as per diagram below from the Scottish Government Technical Handbook.
Exceptions may be considered in a private dwelling if no danger is caused by obstruction or projection.
- Industrial stairs and fixed ladders
Industrial stairs and fixed ladders are not appropriate for public use and should be reserved for access to areas such as mechanical rooms.
Mandatory British Standards for stairs and ladders are: BS 5395: Part 3: 1985 or BS 4211: 2005, as appropriate, or BS 5395: Part 2: 1984 for spiral or helical stairs.
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