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What is the Difference Between a Handrail and a Guardrail?

Handrails and guardrails are often used interchangeably, and many don’t know the differences between the two.

Both are essential health and safety features within residential, commercial, and public areas. Although they have similar aesthetics and functions at first glance, handrails and guardrails are vastly different.

In this article, we will compare a handrail vs. guardrail, focusing on purpose, design, and legal regulatory requirements.

In this article, we will compare a handrail vs. guardrail, focusing on purpose, design, and legal regulatory requirements.

What Are They?

A handrail is a straight rail usually set horizontally or along a slope. It is designed to provide extra support and stability for people walking or transferring from place to place.

Handrails are often situated along staircases, ramps, and decks. They are necessary for workplace safety, and safety at home or in outdoor spaces.

A guardrail, sometimes also called a safety rail, serves more of a protective role. It looks similar structurally to a handrail but is designed to prevent people from falling off a raised surface, such as a balcony, deck, or bridge.



A handrail’s primary purpose is to improve individuals’ safety in a building or public area. They act as a sturdy anchor that people can grab onto while moving around to prevent slips, trips, and falls.

Guardrails also serve as a safety feature. However, their purpose is to prevent people from falling from great heights and getting injured. They can also be used to restrict access to certain areas, such as construction sites or areas with heavy machinery in a warehouse.



There are regulations surrounding the height, length, and shape of handrails and guardrails. However, the specific designs and styles aren’t always legally regulated.

Handrails are often made with metal, wood, plastic, or a combination of these materials. They may be coated in gloss or satin paint to preserve their quality for years to come.

Guardrails may also comprise metal or wood but often contain composite materials, glass, and cable to provide additional strength and durability.


Legal Regulations

Both handrails and guardrails must comply with associated health and safety laws. However, these laws and regulations differ slightly due to the unique purposes and designs of handrails and guardrails.

A handrail must comply with building codes to ensure it is properly installed and accessible for all. It must be installed at the correct height, slope (if applicable), and space from the anchoring structure to meet safety standards.

Compliance with legal regulations ensures that the handrail is easy to reach and sturdy enough for those with mobility or balance issues.

A guardrail must also be positioned at the correct height. Unlike handrails that are in place to prevent slips and falls at ground level, the purpose of guardrails is to prevent people from falling or climbing over a raised edge.

Guardrails are often connected by a series of horizontal bars along a wall or anchor. Legal standards will determine how high the guardrail needs to be and how many anchors it must have, depending on the height of the raised platform.


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TWL Working Mom

Jennifer is the Owner of TWL and Co-Owner of a Influencer Facebook Group Influential Mamas.  Along with blogging + freelance writing and selling Zyia Activewear, she is a mom, army wife and full-time teacher. Jennifer lives in Washington State and is a born + raised New Yorker. In her spare time, she loves traveling, yoga, the beach, writing, listening to books and drinking coffee.

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