Stairway use-habits, design, gravity and other factors may combine to create unsafe conditions.
There are two main causes of stairway accidents in schools and colleges:
1. Dangerous acts
2. Dangerous conditions
In sports, sometimes it is experienced players that have the most injuries. As an activity becomes routine, complacency may lead to carelessness, risk-taking, and dangerous actions.
Climbing and descending stairs is no different. Students, teachers and employees may daily and routinely go up and down stairs in education facilities, leading to dangerous acts including:
• Talking, being distracted
• Using a cell phone and texting
• Looking at a watch to check time
• Carrying objects, especially heavy ones that obstruct sight
• Not using the full width of the stair tread
• Taking two or more steps at once, aka “stair hopping” (students)
• Having untied shoe laces, or pants too long (students)
• Sliding down banisters or horseplay (students)
Many falls on stairs happen at entrances and exits. Entering a building involves a change in environment, with different lighting; and during bad weather, possible water, ice or snow on floors and stair treads. Going downstairs toward exits is a source of falls since haste to depart and funneling of traffic often leads to rushing, pushing, distractions and carelessness. (Reference: “An analysis of occupational stair accident patterns” − Cohen, Templer, et al)
Some research shows people only look at the first and the last several steps, and take the rest of the steps without looking; thus, if there are hazards in the intervening steps, a lack of attentiveness is dangerous.
Carelessness can also lead to misjudging the number of steps remaining.
Lastly, many persons do not use handrails, so any misstep could prove disastrous.
Stairways, like walkways, are susceptible to dangerous conditions such as:
• Ice, snow, water, other substances
• Trip hazards
• Loose or broken surfaces
• Missing safety signage
• Poor lighting
Stairs may pose additional risks such as:
• Absent, broken handrails
• Missing nosing edge or strips
• Worn step tread
Tips for Stairway Safety and Maintenance
• Provide prominent visual or tactile cues to a stairway’s presence: safety signs, change of floor color and or surface texture
• Ensure good lighting on steps and provide backup power to stair lights
(repair or replace inoperative lighting promptly)
• Use safety-yellow color contrast on the leading edge of stair treads
• Use non-slip surfaces on stairs
• Keep the stairway clean, dry, and in good repair
(remove spills, wetness or debris immediately)
• Avoid storing objects on stairs or landings; keep stairways clear
• Schedule, document stairway cleaning, inspection, repairs, and safety modifications
• Schedule, document training employees and students in stair safety
• Encourage reporting problems with stairs immediately
• Encourage students and employees to use handrails and apply a "tennis-racket grip" for safety
Start a Take the Stairs Campaign
Follow the example of the Harvard School of Public Health’s annual Take the Stairs Campaign “…aimed at increasing physical activity, improving human health (by getting people to take the stairs more often) and reducing environmental impact (by using the elevator less and thereby using less energy).”
Ensure Healthy Stairway Materials
As one example, FloorScore certification tests 35 Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and certifies low-VOC emissions in compliance with California 01350 for stair treads and accessories.
Safe, Healthy Stair Governance
State and local building codes govern many aspects of stairway design and safety.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) provides excellent guidance in Chapter 5: Stairways http://bit.ly/2jNvJW9.