Decoding safety provisions

There is something in the Indian psyche that relegates safety to the back of the mind. At construction sites, neglect of safety features is more wide-spread.

Safety provisions to be provided for residential buildings are elaborately described in the National Building Code of India. But it is not mandatory. It is left to local bodies and for architects to follow. As it is not mandatory, only the minimum provisions that help sales are usually incorporated.

One can see glaring examples of compromise and total violation of safety requirements all round. Common among them are, stairs not having proper handrails, treads and rises glassy and of unequal height, balcony parapets not of the proper heights, bathrooms slippery.

The National Building Code has an exhaustive chapter on safety. If you are looking at buying a house, make sure all the safety aspects mentioned in the code are adhered to by the builder. Most fatal accidents take place in areas like balconies, guard bar-less windows of the upper floors, terraces and stairs.

Balconies & terraces

According to the Code, where access is provided to the terrace and to balconies, parapets made of stable materials should be provided to a height of not less than 120 cm all-round. It should not also have grills where bars are more than 100 cm apart and any horizontal bars which can provide facility for climbing.

The top of the parapet should be rounded off so that no article is placed on it. Metal grills shall not be made of continuous horizontal structures to prevent climbing on them. The guard rails shall not be made of glass or any similar material which are not reinforced to prevent breaking. The design shall not provide also any projection or foothold which tempt children to climb (or burglars to get in). Openings between two balusters, rods shall not be more than 80 mm (otherwise very young child may slip out).

Staircases

The design of stairs is one the most neglected aspects of our planning. Many a time in pursuit of architectural trappings, safety requirements are sacrificed; sometimes due to bad construction practices also.

The beginning and end of stairs shall be visibly distinct from its surroundings. This may be done by changing the colour of the floor, change in the inclination of dado or/and extending the handrail 30 cm beyond the flight.

The colour of the tread and riser shall not be dark but show up even in dim light. Cuddapah, tandoor, grey mosaics are not recommended. A see through design of stairs (tread only – mainly architectural) shall be avoided as it distract attention and if lighted cast a shadow

Provision of one or two steps between landings should be avoided. Winders and spiral stairs should be done away with. For slip resistance the surface of the tread shall be truly horizontal. It shall not polished be it stone, ceramic or any other material. A flight shall be restricted to a maximum of 10 steps. This will restrict the distance of the fall in case of children and more particularly the aged.

Hand rails

Handrails either altogether omitted are designed in a casual way. Sometimes ornamental fancy take precedence over safety. To be functionally efficient a hand rail shall be round, 45 to 50 mm diameter (max 65 mm); the surface shall be smooth for the hand to slide comfortably. If the balustrade carrying the hand rail is not solid the openings between two adjacent balustrades shall not be more than 100mm. A midrail of 40 mm diameter will help prevent small child from slipping out.

Lighting of stairs as far as possible should be natural. For artificial lighting an illumination of 100 lumens is recommended. A window directly East or West in line with the flight shall be avoided. The glazing should be glare reducing. Source of light shall be directly above. Switches should be easily accessible and two way both at start and end.

These are some of the provisions a purchaser should know and verify for safe living at the time of purchasing an apartment.  For many a middle class person a house (apartment) is once in a life time investment. So function and safety should take precedence over all other considerations.

It is advisable to check these before occupation or incorporate to bring in conformity with the requirements.

What The Code Says

* Winders and spiral stairs should be done away with, completely.

* A flight shall be restricted to a maximum of 10 steps.

* Lighting of stairs as far as possible should be natural.

* For artificial lighting an illumination of at least100 lumens is recommended.

* Where access is provided to the terrace and balconies, parapets made of stable material should be provided to a height of not less than 120 cm.
 
* It should not also have grills where bars are more than 100 cm apart.

* Handrails either altogether omitted are designed in a casual way. Sometimes ornamental fancy take precedence over safety.

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