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Tough lessons in balustrade compliance

Garth Boyt from Delta Balustrades explains the importance of safe and durable balustrade design and installation in schools

Posted by Stephanie Broad | February 11, 2016 | Interiors

The trend towards more open plan layouts with greater visibility of student movement has significantly increased the use of balustrade systems in schools. Many incorporate stairs with glass infill panels to create a feeling of openness and enhance natural light, while some put an atrium at the heart of the building and require balustrades at each level.

Regardless of individual aesthetic and layout requirements, the balustrade system’s main role is safety. To ensure a safe balustrade design and installation, the system must be BS6180 compliant and the best way to achieve this is to work with a balustrade specialist with a proven portfolio of education projects and a CE-marked range that meets all relevant standards.

Compliance is key

Levels of wear and tear in a school are much higher than in a comparably sized office building, due to the demographic of users, high traffic in circulation areas and occupancy levels. As a result, selecting a system that is durable is critical and this should include stainless steel handrails and supports, toughened glass panels and compliant fixings that will keep the panels securely in place.

Correct use of compliant fixings aligned with current loading regulations is one of the most significant safety issues when it comes to balustrade specification for schools because aesthetic considerations can sometimes result in approved fixings being used in a non-compliant configuration. Failure to ensure balustrades are fixed in accordance with legal loading requirements is not just a regulatory issue - an inadequate balustrade can create a potential health and safety hazard.

The trend towards more open plan layouts with greater visibility of student movement has significantly increased the use of balustrade systems in schools

Bolt through vs. clamp

There are two BS6180 compliant methods of fixing toughened glass panels to steel handrail supports - bolt through glass lugs which penetrate the glass through a pre-drilled hole in the panel to fix it securely to the support on either side, and clamp lugs which, as the name suggests, clamp the surface of the panel in place without penetrating the glass.

While reference is made to clamp lugs in the BS6180 standard, the requirements are very detailed and they are often specified in a non-compliant manner, with numerous documented cases of glass infill panels slipping under their own weight as a result. 

The problem arises when contractors choose to use clamp lugs in the same way that they would use bolt-through fixings, with fixings positioned only on the sides of the rectangular panel. 

According to the BS 1680 standard, if clamp lugs are used they should be positioned around the periphery of the infill panel at a maximum spacing of 600mm, which effectively means securing them around the whole of the periphery to prevent the panel from slipping. While this would impact significantly on the aesthetics of the installation, it is the only safe and compliant way to install glass clamp lugs on any balustrade system.

A proprietary solution

One of the simplest ways to ensure full compliance is to opt for a proprietary balustrade system from a specialist that only uses bolt through glass lugs on all its products. This enables the specifier to select from a range of standard systems while allowing custom-configuration by a trusted balustrade supplier to reflect the specific regulatory requirements and construction considerations of each individual school environment.

The balustrade system is then pre-fabricated off-site and transported to the completed building for installation, which can reduce the build programme. It also ensures both safety and aesthetics, with design and installation by experts to provide the required loading capabilities and durability.

Balustrades are a vital component in improving the flow, natural light and openness of education buildings but safety must always come first. The design expertise of a balustrade specialist is vital in achieving those goals. 

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