Reducing Slip & Fall Accidents On Steps & Stairs

For many proprietors, the staircases are already present in their buildings so there is no luxury to influence stair design before their actual installation. There are however, a number of measures that building owners can apply to reduce the likelihood of stairway falls and to reduce the severity of the injuries sustained from a fall.

The housekeeping of the stairs in a building is just as important as the cleaning and clearing of corridors and open areas, which are routinely tended to. The same kind of attention is necessary on stairways. Treads must be kept clean and free from obstructions. When cleaning stairs with detergents, the treads must be rinsed thoroughly with clean water, to make sure that no soapy residues remain and so reduce the risk of slipping. If any spillages occur, employees must be encouraged to report these immediately to maintenance staff or take action themselves to clear up the contamination.

As with most pieces of equipment, stairs should be regularly inspected for wear and tear. Particular things to look out for are nosings that have come away from the step edging and fraying carpets that may pose a trip hazard. A loose nosing may pose a sufficient distraction under a user’s feet as to cause an individual to lose their balance. The handrails and balustrades should also be inspected regularly to make sure they are in good repair, firmly fixed and structurally sound.

Carpet is a common option used in offices and some public buildings. Carpet is a suitable material for steps, however it is prone to becoming worn smooth through excessive use. In places where carpet is used and is exposed to heavy traffic, it may be a good option to install nosings over the step edges. The nosings should have suitable slip resistance. A microroughness of at least 20μm is necessary for step nosings to provide slip resistance in water-wet conditions(a higher level of microroughness is required for more viscous contaminants) (BS5395-1:2000).

The nosings should be flush with the rest of the tread and not stand proud, which would reduce the effective contact area for the shoes. Where nosings are installed, they should be of a colour and luminance that contrasts with the remaining step. This will provide the user with a clear visual indication of the tread edge. If steps are to be highlighted using colour contrast, the first and last steps should certainly be highlighted and where single steps occur, these should also be highlighted. For exit stairways, Pauls (2005) recommended that both the handrails and step nosings should be marked with photoluminescent material to be visible under all expected lighting conditions, including loss of power.

A common intervention that many employers use is to install anti slip tape to tread edges. This tape can be effective if installed appropriately. The tape should be installed on the very edge of the tread where the nosing shape is square. Where the nosing is rounded, the slip resistant material must continue at least to the vertical front face of rounded nosings (Figure 2, Roys & Wright, 2003). It should be noted that strips might move with use and subsequently become a trip hazard. Also, anti-slip strips will wear smooth over time and so should be regularly inspected and replaced when necessary.

Source: HSE Report Number HSL/2005/10