People lose their balance for a lot of reasons.  Railings are designed to help people catch their balance.  But railings can’t do their job if they’re too big.

The Seattle Residential Code reads:

R311.7.7.3.  Grip-size.  All required handrails shall be of one of the following types or provide equivalent graspability.

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2.  Type II.  Handrails with a perimeter greater than 6 ¼ inches shall have a graspable finger recess area on both sides of the profile.

We’ve had a couple of cases where a 2×4 or 2×6 has been used as a handrail (and doesn’t have recesses).  These handrails are way to big.  When it comes time to depose the defendant’s expert, I like to ask the following “true/false” questions:

Handrails provide emergency support to regain balance if it has been lost.

Handrails provide an opportunity to avoid or lessen the severity of an accident.

It’s more likely that a user can regain balance or prevent a fall if a handrail is graspable.

At the outset of a fall a user’s hand may be pulled upward from the handrail

It’s more likely that the severity of a fall will lessen if the handrail is graspable.

It’s important for a handrail to be graspable.

The handrail should be a shape that allows a strong grasp to be applied.

The handrail should be of a size that allows a strong grasp to be applied.

Size and shape are two components of graspability.

A user’s fingers should be able to curl around a handrail grasping it comfortably and tightly.

People are incapable of exerting sufficient finger pressure to adequately grasp a handrail using only a “pinch grip”

When looking at just the handrail, size and shape are the two components of graspability.

A “power grip” is defined as the closed hand encircling and clenching the handrail.

A “span grip” is essentially the same as “power grip,” except that the clenched hand does not close around the profile.

It’s important that a user be able to exert a power or span grip on the handrail.

Power and span grips bring all of the hand and the finger segments into contact with the handrail.

A power or span grip generates the maximum possible effective forces that can be used in helping a user regain balance or mitigate the effects of a fall.

Maximizing the strength of the grip that can be made on the handrail maximizes the chance for recovering after a loss-of-balance.

Wide and deep handrails cause low grip strength.

An unmodified 2×4 creates either a wide or deep handrail.

If the handgrip is too large the handrail will not be effective.

The defense expert has to answer these questions “yes” and if the fall was cause in part because the injured person couldn’t hold on to the handrail, the case is going to settle before trial.

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