Parapets for windows, balconies and terraces: regulations, functions and legal obligations


Emma Potter

Parapets are essential elements in construction to ensure the safety of buildings and structures. A thorough understanding of their function, the differences from railings, the regulations that govern their installation and the situations in which they are mandatory is essential to design and maintain safe and legally compliant structures.

What exactly is a parapet used for? What are the differences between a parapet and a railing? What is the minimum height required and what regulations govern their installation?

Let’s find out together everything there is to know about parapets, from their function to the rules that govern their use, to understand when it is mandatory to install them and what are the best practices for correct implementation.

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What is a parapet for?

The parapet is used to prevent accidental falls from balconies, stairs, terraces and other elevated surfaces. Its main function is to protect people by providing a safe barrier that prevents them from exceeding the edge of a structure.

This element is essential not only for the safety of the occupants of a building, but also to comply with current regulations that aim to prevent accidents.

Although the terms “parapet” and “railing” are often used interchangeably, there are technical differences between the two. parapet It is a continuous, solid structure, usually made of concrete, glass, or metal, that provides complete protection around the perimeter of an elevated surface.

There railingon the other hand, is composed of vertical elements (balusters) and an upper guide, and can be less massive than a parapet. The choice between the two depends on the specific safety and design needs of the project.

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Minimum height of a parapet

The minimum height of a parapet is established by current regulations and can vary depending on the type of building and its intended use. In Italy, the Ministerial Decree of 14 June 1989, n. 236 provides that parapets must have aminimum height of 100 cm for the common areas of residential buildings and 120 cm for stairs and balconies.

These measures are crucial to ensure an adequate level of safety and prevent accidental falls.

Furthermore, the Consolidated Law on Safety (Legislative Decree 81/2008) specifies that in workplaces the minimum height must be at least 110 cm, with some exceptions based on the intended use and specific conditions of the workplace.

The UNI EN 14122-3 regulation also establishes that for industrial machinery and equipment the minimum height of a parapet must be 110 cm, with a maximum distance between vertical components not exceeding 30 cm, to prevent the passage of people or objects.

These standards not only define minimum heights but also provide detailed guidelines on the structural strength of parapets, including load and resistance tests to ensure that parapets can withstand significant forces without buckling or sagging.

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When is it mandatory to put up a guardrail?

The installation of parapets is mandatory in all situations where there is a risk of falling from a height above 100 cm. Italian regulations specify various contexts in which the use of parapets is essential, including:

  1. Balconies and terraces: All balconies and terraces that are higher than 100 cm from the ground must be equipped with guardrails to prevent accidental falls.
  2. Stairs and ramps: Internal and external stairs, as well as access ramps, must have parapets at least 120 cm high to ensure the safety of users.
  3. Roofs and solar slabs: When accessible, roofs and flat roofs must be protected by parapets to prevent falls.
  4. Footbridges and pedestrian bridges: These elements must have adequate guardrails to protect pedestrians when crossing.
  5. Workplaces: In the workplace, the Consolidated Law on Safety requires the installation of parapets in all areas where there is a risk of falling from a significant height, including construction sites and industrial areas.

The rules are designed to cover all possible situations where a fall could cause serious injury or death, thus ensuring a safe environment for both residents and workers.

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Regulations governing parapets

Parapets are regulated by different standards that govern their height, resistance and the materials that can be used. In Italy, the main reference standards are:

  1. Ministerial Decree 14 June 1989, n. 236: Establishes the minimum safety requirements for parapets in common areas of residential buildings and for stairs and balconies.
  2. Consolidated Law on Safety (Legislative Decree 81/2008): Specifies minimum heights and safety requirements for guardrails in workplaces, including industrial environments.
  3. UNI EN 14122-3: European standard providing detailed guidance on guardrails for industrial machinery and equipment, including minimum heights and strength requirements.
  4. UNI 10809: Italian standard detailing the technical specifications for parapets in various building contexts.

These regulations not only define minimum heights, but also establish structural strength requirements, permitted materials and installation methods to ensure maximum safety.

For example, guardrails must be able to withstand significant horizontal loads without deforming or sagging, thus providing protection against accidental falls.

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Parapets are essential components for building safety, providing protection against falls and compliance with current regulations. Understanding the differences between parapets and railings, knowing the minimum required heights and applicable regulations is essential to designing and building safe and compliant structures.

Proper installation and maintenance of parapets not only protects people but also helps comply with building safety regulations.