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Handrail returns


Chris Bernhardt
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Any idea about when handrails on stairs were required to be returned to the wall and does any body write them up if they are not on older construction? I can only go as far back as the 88 UBC and they were required then. For the sake of argument if they were required thru the 70's and a 70's house you were looking at had a handrail that was not returned to wall would your write it up for correction. It seems petty I know. After all on some of the older homes I am lucky to even see a handrail even if its not returned.

Chris, Oregon

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In my perfect world, I would have a section of the report titled...

"Safety Concerns You Should Know About That No One, Including You, is Ever Going to Correct"

I'd put the railing return in that section.

I go hot & cold on reporting the railing return. Just like the anti-tip bracket on the range, or the crack in the sidewalk.

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Love the title. Could be a long list.

Originally posted by kurt

In my perfect world, I would have a section of the report titled...

"Safety Concerns You Should Know About That No One, Including You, is Ever Going to Correct"

I'd put the railing return in that section.

I go hot & cold on reporting the railing return. Just like the anti-tip bracket on the range, or the crack in the sidewalk.

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Thanks, Kurt

The problem that I am trying to get to in all this is our (Oregon's)SOP requires us to indicate whether or not the item of inspection is satisfactory or not and functioning as intended. If a handrail was suppose to have returns on it per the code of the time and it does not then based on the amazing inspection reports that I have seen written up by inspectors playing expert witness someone will say that I should have reported it as not functioning as intended etc.

Its because of those guys that I find myself questioning every contravention that I see as to my liability in reporting it or not. These guys sometimes go berserk citing code and standards some that don't even apply because they weren't required at the time of construction.

Now I know that a lot of HI's will say "Hey! We don't due code!". Well fine. I use to say the same thing but... I am in business to serve the needs of my clients and at the same time I have to meet the minimum requirements of our SOP. My clients expect me to point out contraventions that might affect them and explain them. Thats why they hire me over the check list/broiler plate guy that might work for less.

I remember when in Oregon they were instituting continuing education for HI's that an inspector complained at one of the Construction Contractor Board meetings about giving credit to inspectors who take building code courses. the complaint was that that would lead to the inevitability of inspectors writing up contraventions of the code and raising the standard of care. A person on the board replied in shock why wouldn't you inform your client on contraventions of the code? I mean isn't that in part what you are being hired to do?

I think that the example of a handrail missing a return is a good example of a pretty petty contravention and a point of discussion as there are many arbitrary things like this in the building codes where I have never heard of the lack of which has caused injury or damage.

I don't know why returns are required but I can imagine that the reason is that people have hung themselves up on the ends of handrails and have been injured. I know I have.

Chris, Oregon

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Reporting is much like following Rule of the Road. Have you ever gotten a ticket for not making a complete stop at a stop sign and do so on or before the white line on the pavement? Have you gotten a ticket for going 2 mph over the limit?

My point is, is the condition that you are looking at reasonably close to what is intended? You'll go nuts looking for perfection. Sometimes I think that you have to step back and ask "is this really worth writing up? Clients understand when you say something's not exactly right but it does the job.

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Originally posted by Chris Bernhardt

Any idea about when handrails on stairs were required to be returned to the wall and does any body write them up if they are not on older construction? I can only go as far back as the 88 UBC and they were required then. For the sake of argument if they were required thru the 70's and a 70's house you were looking at had a handrail that was not returned to wall would your write it up for correction. It seems petty I know. After all on some of the older homes I am lucky to even see a handrail even if its not returned.

Chris, Oregon

It doesn't matter. Returns on handrails are a safety issue. I always recommend adding returns if they're not there. The age of the building is unimportant.

I've gotten caught on those things several times in my life. Someone on this board posted a story about how an elderly relation (grandmother?) died from a stairway fall that began with her getting caught on a handrail prong. Anyone else remember that one? Was it Paul Maclean?

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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No, it wasn't Paul, but it was a regular. Grandmother tripped & died on a non-returned handrail.

I agree w/what everyone is saying, but it is an impossible mission. In Illinois, the we are required to report on safety issues. That's the extent of the description. Oregon's law sounds similar, w/a few extra words.

Think about that for a just a second, & any one of us can come up w/a few thousand things that can be shown to have severely injured or killed someone. Where do we draw a line?

Is a non-return handrail more or less dangerous than the crack in the sidewalk? Is the baluster spacing that is 5" a greater hazard than the too large nosing on the stairs?

Since there is no means for quantifying hazard, this means we have to report on everything, right? That's my interpretation.

Which is impossible. But that's what our State's laws are telling us.

Saying "it doesn't matter, it's dangerous, fix it" isn't wrong, but it isn't right. This is from someone who's described living for several months w/newborns in a bunkhouse w/extremely dangerous stairs, but who survived just dandy. He only fell when he fixed the stairs, remember?

So, how important is it, really? Apparently, not very. This is about paranoia and getting sued, not about intelligent commentary & reportage.

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I understand Kurt. Like I was trying to say in the prior postings my intent was to use this as a test case. The issue that I started with was if in this case we were looking at a handrail with out a return that should have had a return because it was required at the time of construction. Now how can I say this with out contradicting myself. I am not doing a compliance inspection however my darn SOP uses the vague wording functioning as intended. It was intended at the time of construction that handrails be returned! So in a way I am not even considering the fact that its a hazard I am trying to approach it from that its not functioning as intended.

I don't doubt that anyone of us would not write up a non-returned handrail on new construction today but whats the difference today then it was 30 years ago. If we write them up today should we not write them up if they were required 30 years ago?

Chris, Oregon

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Originally posted by Chris Bernhardt

If we write them up today should we not write them up if they were required 30 years ago?

Chris, Oregon

There is no answer that is correct.

It's part of the continuing conundrum that licensing, multiple SOP's, and the imagined notion that telling someone that something is dangerous is going to make a difference in how one moves through life.

Personally, I think we would better serve our customers by handing them a book (that doesn't exist yet) that addresses all the possible safety hazards in a house, and let them educate themselves. Most folks would get through a couple pages, then put the book down and never look @ it again.

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Originally posted by kurt

In my perfect world, I would have a section of the report titled...

"Safety Concerns You Should Know About That No One, Including You, is Ever Going to Correct"

I think I may very well add such a section to my report, but I'll shorten the title to "Safety Concerns You Should Know About" and follow it with a short 2 or 3 sentence paragraph that explains the rest (technically this stuff isn't right, but only in very rare instances will any actual harm ever come of it, but when it does it could be bad so fixing or not fixing it is up to you and only you). Stuff like the returns and tip brackets would go only there, but stuff like GFCI's and smoke detectors would go both there and in the summary. I do know of a small handful of clients who have read every word of the full report, but not many. For them, it would be in there; for the rest, it wouldn't matter.

If I see something I know isn't right I feel I am obliged to report it. Whether or not they do anything about is out of my area, but I have to say something. I don't think I have to pretend it's always a big deal and may very well kill Granny tomorrow if they don't fix it. Where to draw that line is up to each inspector.

Brian G.

We Live Behind The [8]

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I've been doing it that way for about a year and a half; the last page of the report is "Safety Concerns" where I have a few dozen things on every house.

It's the stupidest page in the entire report. It takes all this stuff that may, or may not, be important depending on way too many variables to even begin thinking about. The customer is confronted w/a page of information that, by it's very nature, tends to minimize all of it.

Yes. Living behind the 8 Ball.

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Originally posted by kurt

The customer is confronted w/a page of information that, by it's very nature, tends to minimize all of it.

Yeah, but at least you're telling them. That's about all you can do with stuff like that. Don't forget how many of our brethern are out there saying nothing, nothing at all, that might rock the boat. [:-censore

How do you give the client an accurate, useful perspective on the highly-unlikely-but-possible danger of a minor issue if you can't even figure it out for yourself? Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Damn. [:-irked]

Brian G.

Sort of Like Being Married [:-headach[-crzwom]

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Originally posted by kurt

No, it wasn't Paul, but it was a regular. Grandmother tripped & died on a non-returned handrail.

I agree w/what everyone is saying, but it is an impossible mission. In Illinois, the we are required to report on safety issues. That's the extent of the description. Oregon's law sounds similar, w/a few extra words.

Think about that for a just a second, & any one of us can come up w/a few thousand things that can be shown to have severely injured or killed someone. Where do we draw a line?

We each have to define our own line. That's what Chris is doing with this post, attempting to define his line. Personally, if there's a condition that can cause injury because it doesn't meet the minimum code requirements that have been around for 20 years, I place that condition on my side of the line.

Is a non-return handrail more or less dangerous than the crack in the sidewalk? Is the baluster spacing that is 5" a greater hazard than the too large nosing on the stairs?

There probably isn't enough data out there to determine the answer to those questions. The more relevant question should be, "Is a non-return handrail less safe than a return handrail?" The relative risk between a handrail and a sidewalk crack isn't up to us to determine. Let the customer prioritize his own repairs.

Since there is no means for quantifying hazard, this means we have to report on everything, right? That's my interpretation.

Well sure. If there's a hazard, we should be reporting it. Of course you need to define what does and doesn't constitute a hazard. That's where codes are helpful for most of the country. I understand that in Chicago they're not as much help.

Which is impossible. But that's what our State's laws are telling us.

Saying "it doesn't matter, it's dangerous, fix it" isn't wrong, but it isn't right. This is from someone who's described living for several months w/newborns in a bunkhouse w/extremely dangerous stairs, but who survived just dandy. He only fell when he fixed the stairs, remember?

But it is dangerous and the responsible advice is to fix it. In the example you cite, I was fully aware and informed about the condition of the stairway. Based on the information that I knew about the stairway, I chose to live with it for several months until I could fix it. That's what we do - give people information so that they can make informed decisions. Would you withhold information about the risks of a non-return handrail? How can the customer make an informed decision if you don't provide him with the information in the first place?

So, how important is it, really? Apparently, not very. This is about paranoia and getting sued, not about intelligent commentary & reportage.

I disagree. It's about giving people information so that they can make their own decisions.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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All true.

Living in the swamp that calls itself Chicago, the risks & hazards (as defined by the lines of this discussion), are everywhere. Every sidewalk, every 80 year old stair, every piece of (non-safety) glass, and more things than I can list.

Hell, the air is dangerous. I should start telling folks; at least they'll have information that allows them to make an informed decision about whether to breath, or not.

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