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Sub-Standard Handrailing is a Safety Concern, Cautions Andrew Mentis

With a steady increase in the amount of sub-standard handrailing making its way onto the South African market, steel grating developer and manufacturer Andrew Mentis cautions local industry to review its selection of handrailing more thoroughly.

“Cheaper handrailing invariably means that thinner material is being used,” Andrew Mentis, managing director of Andrew Mentis, says. “And this could have a serious impact on the safety of personnel working on the plants where this product is installed. Thinner material being used in handrail manufacture obviously impacts on its structural integrity and will affect its strength over the long term.

“The quality of handrailing systems in South Africa is governed by an industry standard arrived at by independent authorities, based on numerous tests to determine the correct material and specifications that ensure handrail is able to withstand a certain level of pressure and force. This includes the stanchions or uprights, as well as the horizontal rails.”

The standard accepted base plate in local industry for a stanchion or upright is, for example, 10 mm thick, in order to deliver the appropriate load-bearing support for the stanchion and meet all safety requirements.

“However, at present bases are being made available to the market that are only 8 mm thick,” Mentis says. “Someone without sufficient technical knowledge could easily assume that a difference of just 2 mm cannot make a significant difference to the integrity of the product. Yet tests have proved that a 10 mm base is almost twice as strong as an 8 mm base.”

According to the industry standard, the bottom tube of the stanchion should have a wall thickness of 2.5 mm. Mentis says the same applies here — inferior products with wall thicknesses of 2 mm and 1.6 mm are currently being put into use. Again, tubes with the specified 2.5 mm wall thickness have been tested and shown to be at least 20% stronger than the 2 mm and 1.6 mm tubes. The top tube should also have a minimum 2 mm wall thickness, but inferior products with a wall thickness of 1.6 mm are presently being utilised.

Handrails for industrial and general purposes should normally be of the two-rail type — comprising a handrail and a knee rail, supported on standards placed at suitable intervals. Handrailing should preferably, and always in areas where there are stairs, be continuous and have no obstruction on, above or near to it that could obstruct people’s hands as they move along it.

The recommended clearance between a handrail and any wall or object behind or below it is 65 mm.

Little understanding
“The issue is not that companies are deliberately buying sub-standard product, knowing that this could endanger their workers,” he stresses. “The problem is that there is little understanding of the technical aspects behind a product such as handrailing.

“The specifications governing handrailing are recorded in the Southern African Steel Construction Handbook, which is used as the steel industry’s reference book, as well as by architects and engineers. However, there is no indication that the purchasing departments who buy handrailing have access to this book, or are even aware of its existence.

“In this tough economic climate purchasing decisions are, in many cases, made on price alone and thinner steel is cheaper. However, in the event that the sub-standard product fails, the consequences to the company concerned could be much higher than the original saving. It therefore makes good business sense to buy products of the correct quality, with sound structural integrity, that will contribute towards a safe working environment.”

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