Stairs can be dangerous especially for the very young and senior citizens. The consequences of a fall from the top of the steps to a story lower can be devastating. Even a fall at the bottom of the steps can cause a serious injury.
According to the April, 2018 American Journal of Emergency Medicine, over 1 million patients are treated in United States Emergency Rooms for stair-related falls each year. According to the National Safety Council’s Injury Facts, falls are the third leading cause of preventable deaths and the first leading cause of preventable nonfatal injuries in the United States.
The noted authority, John Templer, in The Staircase, Studies of Hazards, Falls and Safer Design, identifies falls on stairs, as they are designed and built, as some of the most dangerous artifacts in our environment. On page 15 of the book, he identifies Stair Maintenance (ice, snow, water, other substances on treats; articles left on stairs; broken tread; loose or torn carpet or covering; tread badly eroded; light broken or not switched on; loose nosing strip; and absent or broken handrail) and Stair Design and Construction (a single step; narrow treads; dimensional irregularity; inadequate illumination; risers that are too high or low; a step or stair in an unexpected place; no handrails; nosing strip that projects above the treat; slippery tread material; distracting views; and confusing patterns on the tread) as some of the most important factors that cause stair falls.
One case involved a temporary set of steps in a shopping mall. Measurement of the risers of the steps indicated that they varied in height from the bottom of the steps as follows: 5 3/4 inches; 5 3/4 inches; 5 3/4 inches; 5 inches; and 7 inches. A person climbing these stairs would encounter three successive steps with a uniform riser, then a fourth step with a lower riser, then a fifth step with an additional 2 inch higher riser. An injury resulted. The applicable building codes require riser height and tread width to be uniform throughout any flight of stairs.
Another case involved what appeared to be homemade outdoor steps. The following defects were noted: there was no handrail; the porch carpet was torn near the steps; the carpet did not extend to the edge of the steps by ½ inch; the top thread was severely warped and rose upward in the rear of the step, creating a ski slope effect, especially dangerous if snow or ice was present; the top horizontal board on the porch did not extend to the edge of the porch, creating a ½ inch mini-riser at the top of the steps. Counting the mini-riser, the risers descending were ½ inch; 6 inches; 6 7/8 inches. Counting the mini-tread, the treads descending are: ½ inch; 11 inches; 11 1/3 inches; and 11 ½ inches. The carpet on the porch combined with no slip-resistance on the steps created a slipping hazard because of the change in the coefficient of friction.
Commonly encountered trip hazards include a single step riser. Such trip hazards should be eliminated to provide an unobstructed surface or sufficiently highlighted to attract the pedestrian’s attention. The unexpected and unmarked single step is a known tripping hazard. These steps may not be clearly seen because of placement, poor lighting or a visual merge with the extended walkway. One banquet facility had a single step near to the exit. The same carpet covered the entire floor, both before and after the single step. There were no obvious visual clues. Some codes prohibit less than three steps. Some single steps are obvious and clearly marked at the tread edge with noticeable warning markings. The single step is unexpected except in parking lots and at curbs.