Exterior stair extravaganza (C) Daniel Friedman Stairs, Railings, Ramps & Landings, Codes, Construction

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Stair & railing trip & fall hazards: This series of articles provides details about how to build steps, stairs, and railings, including interior and exterior or outdoor stair & railing codes, stair construction, stair inspection & stair safety hazard guides: beginning here.

We include building code specifications for stairs, steps, rails, stair measurements & sketches, stair & railing photographs, and examples of defects in indoor or outdoor stairs, railings, landings, platforms, treads, and building access ramps. We provide stair code citations for details of how stairs, landings, and railings should be constructed to meet various building codes & standards.

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

Catalog of Common Stair & Railing Specifications, Stair & Rail Defects & Trip HazardsStairway, Railing, Landing Basic Dimensions & Rules

Stair dimensions (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

Our page top photograph shows an exterior stair extravaganza that looked beautiful. On closer inspection we found that this exterior stairway was not securely supported on the steep rocky hillside over which it had been constructed.

Also see Building Safety Hazards Guide. Here we include REFERENCES to key documents on building codes and stair and railing safety.

[Click to enlarge any image]

Because more people are injured by trips and falls than other hazards, experts have looked closely at the specifications for stairs, steps, and rails to reduce the falling hazards.

This work has been translated into stair and railing specifications that are similar among codes and countries (but not identical). -- IBC, IRC, BOCA, Kingston NY Stair Code, & other sources. Sketch courtesy Carson Dunlop Associates.

Stair and Railing Specification Topics for stair (U.S. and International Residential Codes) include the items listed below.

List of Recommended Stairway & Handrailing Construction, Specifications, & Defects Articles

Following this list we provide sketches and photographs of stair, railing, landing and related codes, construction details and hazards. Also see the detailed list of stairway and railing articles found at the "More Reading" links at the bottom of this article under STAIRS, RAILINGS, LANDINGS, RAMPS

Scary stairs in Mallorca © D Friedman at

[The steep narrow pitched stone steps in our photo (left) connect walkers on two roadways in Mallorca (DF 2002). The builder pitched the steps in towards the stone wall on the left, perhaps to give the stair use an added measure of "safety".

Collapsing stairs White Mtn New Hampshire (C) Daniel Friedman

Stairway Lighting requirements (C) Carson Dunlop AssociatesOur photo (left) shows an interior stairway at the Hacienda Jaral de Berrio, Mexico.

These steps, constructed in the 1700's make successful use of platforms at the stairway turns, but are unsafe, lacking guardrails, handrails, and (due to centuries of wear) level treads.

Tables of Accident Frequency by Type of Event - Frequency of Injuries due to Falls

(Billion $)
Motor Vehicles 45,923 23,028 4,803,000 $48.7
Falls  12,866 783,357 11,493,000 37.3
Firearms 31,556 65,129  171,000 14.4
Poisonings 11,894  218,554  1,472,000 8.5
Fires/burns 5,671 54,397 1,403,000 3.8
Drownings 6,171 5,564 26,000 2.5
All others 28,487 696,707 35,001,000 42.4
Total injuries 142,568' 2,346,736 54,369,000  
Lifetime cost $49.4  $80.0 $28.2  $157.6
Percent of total lifetime cost 31 51 18 100
1 Cost of Injuries in the United States and the Role of Building Safety, Jake Pauls BUILDING STANDARDS/July-August, 1991

This hazard pattern has shifted since about 1996 to reflect significant increases in mortality due to drug overdose and firearms. In fact, by the end of 2011 in the U.S. at least, the New York Times reported that for the first time, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control had found that drug overdoses represented the leading cause of accidental death, overtaing motor vehicle accidents.[2] However falls remains a very high risk and one which receives less attention than it deserves.

"Falls include both falling to another level -- as in falling from stairs, ladders & windows -- or same level falls such as slipping, tripping & stumbling. Deaths from falls were highest in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Norway, Slovenia & Finland -- and lowest in Albania, Mauritius, Bahamas, Argentina & Chile. (Countries listed in order of death rate.)" Reference: Causes of Death, Ben Best

1 Motor Vehicle 44.3
2 Falls 17.8
3 Poisoning 13
4 Drowning 3.9
5 Fires, Burns, Smoke 3.4
6 Medical Surgical Complication 3.1
7 Other land transport 1.5
8 Firearms 0.8
9 Other (non-transport) 17.8
2 National Vital Statistics Report, Volume 50, Number 15 (September 2002

Risk of Falls, Burns, Poisoning 3

Falls: The highest risk of injury by falls occurs among the elderly. "Falls represent the most frequent non-transportation related accidents occurring among older adults and are the leading cause of home fatalities for this population. Stairways are particularly hazardous for the elderly.

Other types of falls include slipping in bathtubs and showers, slipping on tile or icy terrain, and tripping over objects on the floor. Falls associated with getting in and out of bed, getting on or off a chair, or using the bathroom are also frequent.


Continue reading at CODES for STAIRS & RAILINGS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

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