So… what is the “ladder effect?”
Basically, it’s the idea that if you put anything resembling a ladder in front of a person, they will climb it. This idea relates to cable railing because it suggests that the railing’s horizontal design will tempt users to scale it, resulting in injury, and thus rendering it unsafe for use. But while this debate is technically on the table, it’s not given too much weight, as the idea still doesn’t have much substantial evidence backing it up. In case you’re concerned about the “ladder effect” and it’s relation to cable railing, here is some information on the topic.
Where the Term Comes From:
First of all, let me talk about the origin of the concept. The term was coined by Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCA). In 2000, the International Residential Code (IRC) picked up some of BOCA’s wording, “[guardrails] shall not be constructed with horizontal members or other ornamental pattern that results in a ladder effect”, but it was never adopted by the International Building Code (IBC). The IRC dropped that language in the following code cycle of 2001, but many inspectors and safety proponents still claim that horizontal railing features, like cable infill, are a “code violation.”
Many who are wary of the ladder effect are most concerned about child safety, and have been trying to convince groups like the IBC and the International Code Council (ICC) that thousands of children are injured every year as a result of climbable guardrails. They suggest that children cannot be stopped from climbing and that manufacturers and installers are thus responsible for the injuries that result.
While their hearts are in the right place, there are some issues with their argument:The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) teamed up with National Ornamental and Miscellaneous Metals Association (NOMMA) and presented the ICC with a detailed report on the actual dangers that horizontal railings present. The results of their study showed that among children between the ages of 1.5-4 years, falls from railings, banisters, porches, balconies, open-side floors and floor opening handrails accounted for just 0.032 percent of injuries to children that age. And, there is still uncertainty as to what physical situations lead up to such injuries.
1. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) teamed up with National Ornamental and Miscellaneous Metals Association (NOMMA) and presented the ICC with a detailed report on the actual dangers that horizontal railings present. The results of their study showed that among children between the ages of 1.5-4 years, falls from railings, banisters, porches, balconies, open-side floors and floor opening handrails accounted for just 0.032 percent of injuries to children that age. And, there is still uncertainty as to what physical situations lead up to such injuries.
2. The countries which do prohibit horizontal railings have yet to provide sufficient evidence that the prohibition actually reduces guardrail-related injuries.
3. Restrictions responding to the “ladder effect” don’t take into account homeowners who do not have children, constricting their right to personal design preferences for the sake of a hazard that doesn’t apply to them.
4. The idea that manufacturers and installers are more responsible for child safety than parents is troubling in and of itself. It’s possible that increased adult supervision won’t only take care of the “ladder effect’s” potential threat, but could even prove more effective than design restriction in the first place.
It is because of these issues that there are no legally-binding codes pertaining to this concept. The ICC has reached the conclusion that no additional code language on the topic of horizontal railings is necessary. In regards to one proposal addressing the “ladder effect,” they responded:
“The proposed text is vague and would result in non-uniform enforcement. The new 42-inch guard height requirement should better address the concern for children climbing the guard. The proposed requirement is excessive in that it would be mandatory for all occupancies.”
While the IBC and ICC are not interested in the “ladder effect,” it has been considered by The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines, which recommend installing additional handrails in cases where children are the primary users of the building or facility. To aid in preventing accidents, they suggest having a child handrail at 28 inches in addition to the three standard rails at 4, 37, and 42 inches.
To Sum It Up:
While concern for children is in and of itself a worthy cause, there remains a dearth of moving evidence worth legally addressing. Additionally, regulations would also encroach on homeowners’ design rights and place blame on manufacturers rather than guardians.
If you plan to install a cable railing for your deck, walkway, or staircase, it’s important to consult local building requirements and possibly educate inspectors about this concept. Also, if you don’t live in the United States, check to see if your country’s codes address the “ladder effect” or not.
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