Ladder Effect & Guardrails

I recently came across an issue regarding how horizontal intermediate railings, like shown below, can cause a hazard to children, because they can climb up these and fall over. It is referred to as the “ladder effect”. This seems like a real possible issue at first glance, but we will dive into this a little deeper to get a full understanding of the different perspectives on this issue.

Codes and the “Ladder Effect”

The ladder effect was only mentioned in the 2000 edition of the IRC:

R316.2 Guard opening limitations: Required guards on open sides of stairways, raised floor areas, balconies, and porches shall have intermediate rails or ornamental closures that do not allow passage of a sphere 4 inches (102mm) in diameter. Required guards shall not be constructed with horizontal rails or other ornamental patterns that result in a ladder effect.

But, it was deleted from the code in the next publication and never reintroduced.

So, in the US it is not part of the model code. But, as always, check for local amendments to code as this may apply. It also may apply in other countries.

Argument to enforce the Ladder Effect

It may seem like common sense- lets do everything possible to protect children, even if it really doesn’t make a difference, it can’t hurt to avoid a situation where a child could climb over a guard rail.

If I were designing a place where children are constantly playing and present, it might be a good idea to consider a guard without horizontal members- seeing as how there are plenty of options out there for other kinds of guard rails.

Argument to not enforce the Ladder Effect

As it seems, the ICC has opted to not enforce the ladder effect, for a few reasons including but not limited to:

  • There is no evidence that having horizontal railings causes any more accidents among children
  • Difficult barrier designs merely present a greater challenge to the determined child.
  • Proper adult supervision will always be more effective than design restriction


Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what kind of railing to install. The model U.S. codes do not enforce horizontal guard rails because they do not have enough substantive evidence proving that it provides any more safe of an environment for children.

But, if this is a concern for you, there are plenty of options for a guard rail that can’t have a ladder effect, including glass railings, vertical railings, etc. But please remember, in any environment where there is a guard rail, there is still a risk for a child to get over the railing with a little creativity, so nothing will replace proper parental supervision catered to the Child’s age and ability.

Some more information regarding this topic can be found at the following links:

Subscribe for our Latest updates