National Building Code requirements for stairs under review

Volume 17, Number 2, June 2012

The Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCBFC) is reviewing the National Building Code (NBC) requirements for stairs, ramps, handrails and guards. Two joint task groups have been established, under the direction of the Standing Committee on Housing and Small Buildings and the Standing Committee on Use and Egress.

A task group is working to determine if there is a benefit in changing step dimensions for stairs.

The Joint Task Group on Step Dimensions, formed in spring 2012, is reviewing step dimensions inside dwelling units. This action is in response to a code change request recommending that step dimension values (rise and run) be changed to reduce the incidence of falls and injuries. The work will be conducted in two phases over a one-year period.

In the first phase, current literature and data on step dimensions and falls will be reviewed and issues that need addressing will be identified. The second phase will consist of a costing analysis to assess the potential implications of using different stair layouts and different rise and run dimensions. A final report covering both phases will be prepared for the parent standing committees, which will then submit it to the CCBFC Executive Committee next spring for a determination and recommendation on whether or not changing the dimensions would be justified.

The Joint Task Group on Stairs, Ramps, Handrails and Guards, established in 2010, has been dealing with a variety of outstanding issues. These include the need to resolve inconsistencies between Parts 3 and 9 of the NBC, including the use of different terminology. New code change requests are also being addressed. This work is being carried out by four sub-task groups.

The sub-Task Group on Loads is addressing load requirements for guards and handrails in Parts 3, 4 and 9 of the NBC. This includes their design and attachment.

The sub-Task Group on Fall Protection is focusing on issues related to handrail and guard requirements, such as height, continuity, grasp ability, and protection at doors and windows. It is also revisiting climbable guards, as a new code change request is recommending that all provisions relating to them be deleted.

The sub-Task Group on Stair Width and Height is reviewing exit stair width in public buildings, inconsistencies in measuring ramp width in Parts 3 and 9 (i.e., wall-to-wall versus clear width, which is between the handrails) and terminology use.

Lastly, the sub-Task Group on Stair Dimensions and Configurations is considering expanding the range of stair configurations allowed in dwelling units, as only straight runs with one winder or curved flights are currently permitted. Mixed-run flights, which combine straight and curved sections in one flight, are not permitted as they are deemed to be unsafe. Resolution of this matter awaits the outcome of deliberations of the Joint Task Group on Step Dimensions. As for public stairs, although no configuration changes are being considered, angled tread dimensions are being examined.

Recommendations from each sub-Task Group will be submitted to the parent standing committees via the Joint Task Group on Stairs, Ramps, Handrails and Guards. Any proposed changes approved by the standing committees will be available for public review in fall 2013.

For more information

Contact Philip Rizcallah at or 613-993-4064.