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STAIRS, RAILINGS, LANDINGS, RAMPS
STAIR FALL & TRIP HAZARDS
WOOD FLOOR DAMAGE
Stair tread & step construction or maintenance mistakes can create a wide range of serious stair fall hazards. Using illustrations from around the world, we illustrate many common causes of stair falls and injuries such as uneven or damaged steps and stairs, missing or unsafe railings, loose, crooked treads, or lack of visual cues that tell a walker that she is approaching a step.
We include the classic mistake: a loose throw rug at the top of a stairway.
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Worn, Loose, Damaged Steps & Stair Fall Hazards
Our page top photo illustrates a stunningly-worn and unsafe wooden stairway. At below left you can see an occupant stepping out through a door that opens out over an exterior stair where a platform was needed. Be sure to notice that the stone steps are supported on wobbly, tipping and falling-over clay blocks.
[Click to enlarge any image]
The safety tread on these stairs in a New York City gallery have broken away at the tread nose.
Even more serious a fall hazard are sections of stair tread nosing that are still in place but that have become split, cracked, loose or fragile.
This stair nose falling hazard is discussed at STAIR TREAD NOSE BROKEN-FALLS
The steps shown at below left (Spain) were uneven in surface, had no side railing, were too narrow, a bit steep, and had that interesting little swing-out gate (with no platform) leading up to an upper balcony with not much of a railing, as our friend Nuria was contemplating.
At below right the author (DF) considers how to walk around a corner on triangular stone stairs in the historic (and long empty of its original occupants and builders) Jewish quarter of Murcia, Spain.
Narrow Tall Stair Steps, Slippery Stair Tread Surfaces
At below left, the stair treads are too narrow - a single 2x6 was used, making these treads only 5 1/2" deep
. There are other troubles too, discussed at STAIR STRINGER DEFECTS. At below right are wooden steps in a 1790 home restored by the author (DF) in the 1970's. Coating the antique, hand-sanded pine stair treads left a beautiful deep red-brown surface. But use of high gloss varnish or (in this case) polyurethane on wooden steps leaves a hard, durable, but slippery surface.
Stair tread surfaces of glass, tile, or painted wood surfaces are slippery, especially when wet, and more-so on outdoor steps that are not protected from rain, snow, ice, or algae growth.
Curved, Angled, & Winder Stair Trip Hazards
Angled or Curved stair treads are a particular trip hazard, especially because of the lack of uniformity and because the tread width at the inside of the curve can be too small for safe walking.
Discontinuous, Awkward, Stairs & Steps
Our photos below show two different sorts of difficult-to-use stairs. At below left the steps are familiar to locals and visitors to San Miguel de Allende, the side steps to the Parroquia. Construction on the Parroquia, began in the 1600s, and its current facade was completed by a master mason whose sketches, drawn in the dirt in the 1860's resulted in a unique and widely loved neo-gothic facade.
The steps shown appear to date from that epoch. At below right we begin illustrating scarier stairs in the same city.<
At above right the stair, located in a private home in San Miguel de Allende, is used to access a tiny rooftop patio. The climbs a narrow metal stair, then from a tiny platform, leap onto a step where you can see my left foot, then ascend to the patio. The builder included an overhead "grab rail" (below left) to give users a small chance at surviving access to the upper patio space.
But as our two photos below show, hazards remained. A curtain hung from the grab rail interferes with grasping it, and finally, even getting on or off of the metal stairway includes another discontinuous "partial" step near the stair bottom, as our friend Rebecca demonstrated during our visit in 2005.
Curved, Tapered Steps & Stair Hazards
Finally, in the same home and to complete one of the worst stairways we've encountered, check out the combination of a rounded step with one that tapers to a point, giving the walker almost nowhere to step comfortably nor safely.
Do not expect an elderly or disabled person to consider using stairs by Machete Ken, the builder of these interesting climbers.
Lack of Visual cues to Indicate Presence of a Step or Stair
The presence or absence of visual cues that can inform a walker that she is approaching a step.
Examples of "do's and "don'ts" in visual clues that can help prevent stair falls are detailed at COLOR / LIGHTING CUES AVOID TRIP HAZARDS. Examples of some of the most egregious stair trip mistakes due to lack of visual cues are shown just below.
The floor at below left has a 4-inch step up. The same color tiles were used on the floors at both levels as well as on the step riser, making it harder to see the presence of a step, especially in low light and especially for new visitors to this hotel room in Mexico.
Is it a Step or a Passage?
Stairs and steps often try to use a color change or a tile layout change to indicate a change. But tile patterns alone can be confusing. Is the photo at left showing a passage between two rooms whose floors are on the same level, or is there as step up or down?
In our photo left (Rhinebeck, New York) it is not clear what's going on.
Slippery Stairs: A Rug at the Top of the Stairs?
Do not place slippery items such as a rug or towel on a smooth floor at the top of steps or stairways such as the steps shown in our photo (left).
Slippery Stairs: stair treads with algae, ice, polish, snow, or water or other slippery surfaces
Do not permit stair treads to remain coated or covered with materials that make the steps slippery. Various industry, ANSI, ASTM, OSHA, ADA standards recommend a static coefficient of friction (SCOF) of 0.5 or higher (ADA 0.6 or above) and define surfaces with SCOF of 0.4 or lower as "low traction", i.e. "slippery".
Indoor stair tread slip hazards include high gloss polyurethane coated wood treads, polished stair treads, carpets on stairs, wet stair treads. Other interior stair slip trip fall hazards such as damaged or improper treads are detailed at STAIR TREAD DIMENSIONS.
Outdoor stair trip hazards include algae, especially wet algae, ice, snow, water, loose dirt or sand.
See Algae, Ice, Fungus, Wet Surfaces & Other Stair Slip, Trip & Fall Hazards for details. Also see EXTERIOR STAIR FALLS for a catalog of causes of falls on stairs that includes surface conditions and other defects.
Unsafe, Improper, Missing or "Removed" Stair Handrails or Guardrails
At left we indicate a stair railing mistake that you may encounter in a home where a narrow stairwell has made it difficult to move furniture in or out of a room. Someone removes the railing to move large items up or down the stairs - and doesn't bother to replace it.
There are so many ways to foul up a handrail on steps and stairs that we have collected railing specifications and examples of mistakes in a separate article - see HANDRAILS & HANDRAILINGS .SLIPS, TRIPS & FALLS, EXTERIOR STAIRS
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: Someone fell down the stairs when the rail bracket came out of the wall. Is the landlord responsible?
There is a lease provision requiring out of possession land-lord to do structural repairs. Several years before an accident a new stairway was constructed in a building between the main level and basement level. including required handrail.
While using the steps, someone fell the 12 stairs when the bracket holding the upper left handrail came out of the wall. Was the landlord responsible for this failure; i.e. is a hand-rail part of land-lords requirement to make structural repairs, keeping in mind that the landlord paid for and hired the contractor to install the hand-rail. - R.S. 8/2/12
A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem with stairs, railings, and other conditions that can cause or contribute to a fall - not something I can assess by a brief email text message. That said, here are some things to consider:
Questions & answers on details about recognizing common stair trip and fall hazards.
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
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