Safety is always of primary concern for any homeowner. Stair safety is one area of the home where safety hazards are especially great. Indoor and outdoor stairs pose a potential risk for tripping, slipping or falling especially if their condition or their design is not ideal.
For new home construction or existing homes, stair design involves more than just convenient location and access from one storey to another. Measurements such as head clearance and pitch contribute to safe stair design as well. The challenge for home building then is to design a stairway built to the appropriate dimensions that will fit the floor plan in a convenient location.
Stairs should be of an adequate size to accommodate the average shoe size per Building Code Australia (BCA) and Australian Standards, AS-1657. They should be of such dimensions as to not require excessive physical exertion to navigate, and not pose a trip hazard by causing heels to be caught on the edge of treads.
Materials used are another important component of stairway safety. The type of flooring, or floor covering contributes to safety. Flooring patterns can affect safety as well, as visibility may be impaired, obscuring the edges of each stair and creating a trip hazard.
Stair Safety Design Elements
Proper stair construction enlists a number of important factors that builders and homeowners must keep in mind. Design elements to consider for preventing falls on stairways include:
- Rise and Going – Each step of a stairway has three basic measurements: width, rise and going. The rise of a step is its height; the going, or tread, measures its depth. Use of the proper standards for each allows comfortable and safe use of stairs.
- Nosing – The leading edges of each tread may be extended and shaped so as to provide additional surface for feet to step on. Nosings can add more area to a stairway within a confined space, or to an existing stairway without the need to rebuild the stairwell.
- Pitch – this is the rate of elevation from step to step, or the angle at which the stairway is pitched from one storey to another. Too steep a pitch can be a slip or fall hazard, whereas too shallow a pitch can take up too much of your floor plan.
- Building Material – Depending on the type of material employed for stairway construction (timber, glass, metal, concrete), floor coverings may be necessary to provide safe footing. To improve traction on smooth timber, carpeting may be used. For an exterior stairway, anti-slip treatments will enhance safety.
- Lighting – Adequate illumination of a stairwell aids in navigation of the stairs. Many accidents on stairways are the result of tripping due to difficulty seeing the edges of each tread. Proper lighting and use of contrasting colours between risers and treads will help alleviate this issue.
Each stairway in your home should be inspected periodically for loose steps or handrails. Treads should be firmly affixed to stringers. Wall-mounted handrails should be anchored onto wall studs. Balustrades and newels must be inspected for cracking, looseness and wear. Anti-slipping materials should be checked for wear and replaced as necessary.
Placement of stairways in new construction or home remodels should conform to both building codes and traffic patterns in the home. Be careful of head clearance both on and underneath the stairway, particularly where they ascend above doorways.
A licensed professional building inspector is recommended, who can identify any potential safety issues presented by your home’s stairways. An inspector will explain the required dimensions of various stairway types (ladder, spiral, etc.) and advise on what materials to use, locations to consider, repairs that are needed.
Stair safety is no accident. It’s a matter of proper stair design and construction, and keeping your stairways well-lit, and protected against slipping. Prevent falls in your home, and have your stairways inspected. Don’t find out the hard way that your stairs need attention.