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What’s the difference between Clear Width and Escape Width?

Posted on 9th February 2023

Handrail diameters explained – The difference between Clear Width and Escape Width.


Stairs are often designed in the smallest space possible. This is to maximise the usable floor space in the building. Stair widths, therefore, are often reduced to be as narrow as compliance will allow. Balustrades and handrails have a further impact on the width and a common discussion we have with our customers is “what’s the difference between the clear width as required for accessibility and the escape width As required for fire regulations?” As when interpreting the guidance documents, it can get very confusing.


The difference between Clear Width and Escape Width

Today, we’re going to talk you through the difference between clear width and escape width. This is more about how these are measured and not the widths themselves. It should be noted here that the regulations themselves mix up the term clear width. So, we encourage the use of the word escape width to differentiate what is stipulated as part of the fire regulations clear width.

Staircase Escape Width Staircase Clear Width


Guidance and Building regulations

So clear width is typically measured between handrails and relates more to the accessibility and ease of use of the handrail or balustrades, whereas escape width is for fire regulations, and this is the minimum width of passage between fixed obstructions on the staircase. However, it does exclude the wall handrail provides, it doesn’t protrude into the stair more than 100mm.


The escape width requirement can vary from project to project in accordance with the fire strategy for that building. If the clear width requirement is less than the escape width, it’s very likely the escape width would take precedence as noted in BS 5395.

BS 5395


Final Remarks – Our Recommendations

To conclude, the clear width is measured between handrails and generally works out less than the escape width which is measured from the face of the balustrade, not the handrail to the wall.