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.
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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.
[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.
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
[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".
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.
|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. 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
|5||Fires, Burns, Smoke||3.4|
|6||Medical Surgical Complication||3.1|
|7||Other land transport||1.5|
|2 National Vital Statistics Report, Volume 50, Number 15 (September 2002|
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.
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I have a set of exterior steps on my commercial project in PG county Maryland. Thee stairs consist of seven risers. Do these steps require a handrail? - Robert Traylor
Beginning at STAIRS, RAILINGS, LANDINGS, RAMPS and in detail at CODES for STAIRS & RAILINGS you'll find specifications on stairs and railings including when railings are required. You don't specify the total rise, and in some communities a total rise of 3 ft or less can be excluded from handrail requirements. But with 7 risers I suspect that a rail is needed.
My OPINION is that even if the rail were not strictly necessary, it would be a smart safety improvement to install one. Someone can be injured even on a small fall, and you note that this is a commercial property - which to me means more responsibility on the property owner and more risk as well.
(Mar 25, 2013) Anonymous said:
my daughters steps are rickety
and are so wide can't reach rails on eitherside and those are loose is there a max width fro rsils so people with leg weakness an benifit from them
Anon I don't quite understand the question.
But in general, unstable stairs are unsafe and need to repaired or replaced.
And for stairs wider than 36" many codes require railings on both sides; you can certainly add handrailing on the second side of a stairway regardless of code if needed for the safety of specific occupants.
(Apr 16, 2014) Anonymous said:
How often should temporary stairs be inspected?
How long of a time period should temporary stairs be used?
Good question Anon, I don't know, but OSHA may specify an inspection period. Certainly one would expect an inspection at the time of construction. After that, perhaps the requirement would vary depending on site conditions, usage, etc.
I'll do some research. You want to review OSHA Publication 3124. There no specific period is given, rather the standard states:
Note: A competent person must inspect ladders for visible defects periodically and after any incident that could affect their safe use.
Employers accepted into SHARP may receive an exemption from programmed inspections (not complaint or accident investigation inspections) for a period of 1 year.
(June 17, 2014) Matt said:
At what point is a riser or step required to access a deck in the attic holding the water heater and A/C unit?
It appears that I must hop up 24 or so inches to get to the A/C? Houston, TX.
For an access s uttle that only serves mechanicals stairs may not be required - though other OSHA safety rules may apply for workplace environments.
(July 24, 2014) Kirk Gastinger said:
do you know of restrictions to using wood in exterior exit stairs - type I or II construction? IBC is the local code.
No. Stair materials are not restricted to prohibit wood material in structure nor in tread, railing, or balusters; but the addequacy (thickness or dimension) and condition of the stairway have to be adequate and safe so of course if there are rot, connection or other problems those must be addressed.
(Oct 16, 2014) Jerry said:
What is the code on railing on a walk way behind a restaurant , where the restroom is located and the elevation is minimum of 16"? I recently was told to talk to a manager located in the rear of the restaurant i.e. employee entrance door at nite , my back was to the drop off which i miss steeped falling and tearing ligaments in my left knee , as of late i have over 3000$ in medical bills can any body guide me to website to see if this restaurant was in compliance ?
Jerry, what's the actual question. It sounds to me as if you are describing a public stairway that requires code-compliant stair tread, riser, handrail dimensions.
It is the case that in some jurisdictions the code inspector may not require handrailings along steps that are less than 3 feet from top to bottom walking surfaces.
Start by checking with your local building department on what they requrie.
(Jan 16, 2015) Pat said:
How big should a platform be to an out side door with a 7 inch drop
Details are in the More reading articles above at STAIR PLATFORMS & LANDINGS, ENTRY
in general, a minimum platform is 3 feet in the direction of travel and at least 3 feet or the door width in width, or greater. The step down rise is not a determinant of platform length and width but there are guidelines about platform level and step down riser height.
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