Horizontal cable railing systems on decks and balconies have a potential to be hazardous, especially for young children who have a natural curiosity and tendency to climb. Though there has been no stance made by the IRC regarding this issue, the inspection industry would like to see some tougher mandates put into place. A cable railing system can be constructed vertically to eliminate the climbing hazard. Applications also exist where solid plexiglass panels have been installed at the interior of the deck railings to prevent climbing, without disturbing the aesthetics or view.

John Reim
(from online comments)

Fortress vertical stainless steel cable railing panels are shown on a deck built by Peachtree Decks and Porches, in Georgia.
Bobby Parks Fortress vertical stainless steel cable railing panels are shown on a deck built by Peachtree Decks and Porches, in Georgia.

Andrew Penny, Feeney Inc.’s VP of Marketing and Advertising, responds: The discussion of horizontal or decorative infill—cable or otherwise—and whether or not these styles are more likely to be climbable than vertical infill was reviewed in extreme detail by the ICC 15 years ago. Back in 2000, when the International Codes were first introduced, the IRC included wording restricting horizontal infill elements in guardrails (the IBC has never included such wording). As you can imagine, this wording created a stir in the railing and design/construction industries, and enough compelling information was brought to the attention of the ICC that it assigned the issue to a special technical committee. This technical committee then thoroughly reviewed all of the reports and information and subsequently removed all wording relating to the so-called “ladder effect” from the IRC in the 2001 IRC Supplement. The wording has not reappeared in the IRC since. Intuitively, the idea of a climbing danger associated with horizontal railing elements seems to make perfect sense, but just isn’t supported by the data that was presented to the ICC Tech Committee back in 2000. Of course, every code jurisdiction is different, and some may still be relying on the earlier 2000 code interpretation. So it is important for architects, fabricators, contractors, and homeowners to confirm local codes as related to the railing products they choose to install.