Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 5: Facilities, Supplies, Equipment, and Environmental Health

5.1 Overall Requirements

5.1.6 Exterior Areas

Note to Reader: See Chapter 6 for Outdoor Play Area Requirements Guardrails and Protective Barriers

Guardrails, a minimum of thirty-six inches in height, should be provided at open sides of stairs, ramps, and other walking surfaces (e.g., landings, balconies, porches) from which there is more than a thirty-inch vertical distance to fall. Spaces below the thirty-six inches height guardrail should be further divided with intermediate rails or balusters as detailed in the next paragraph.

For preschoolers, bottom guardrails greater than nine inches but less or equal to twenty-three inches above the floor should be provided for all porches, landings, balconies, and similar structures. For school age children, bottom guardrails should be greater than nine inches but less or equal to twenty inches above the floor, as specified above.

For infants and toddlers, protective barriers should be less than three and one-half inches above the floor, as specified above. All spaces in guardrails should be less than three and a half inches. All spaces in protective barriers should be less than three and one-half inches. If spaces do not meet the specifications as listed above, a protective material sufficient to prevent the passing of a three and one-half inch diameter sphere should be provided.

Where practical or otherwise required by applicable codes, guardrails should be a minimum of forty-two inches in height to help prevent falls over the open side by staff and other adults in the child care facility.

Structures such as porches, landings, balconies, and other similar structures that are raised more than thirty inches above an adjacent ground or floor, pose increased risk for fall injuries. Spaces between three and one-half inches and nine inches are a head entrapment hazard (1).

Guardrails are designed to protect against falls from elevated surfaces, but do not discourage climbing or protect against climbing through or under. Protective barriers protect against all three and provide greater protection. Guardrails are not recommended to use for infants and toddlers; protective barriers should be used instead.

A top guardrail with a minimum height of forty-two inches serves the needs of all occupants – children as well as adults (2). The minimum thirty-six-inch guardrail height detailed in this standard is based solely on the needs of children.

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
  1. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). 2008. Public playground safety handbook. Bethesda, MD: CPSC.
  2. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). 2009. NFPA 101: Life Safety Code. 2009 ed. Quincy, MA: NFPA.