Change in floor elevations can be unexpected and dangerous. Entry steps, stairs between floors, steps between rooms, steps into tubs and steps at showers are all potential risks. More people in the United States die from falling on stairs than in any other country. Fortunately, falling on stairs or tripping on steps are largely preventable. Proper stair design, focused attention, good housekeeping, and well-maintained health can all contribute to fall prevention.
Proper stair design is the leading factor in fall prevention. Handrails are provided on each side of a stairway, especially a winding stairway where rectangular and tapered treads require users to move from larger to smaller tread depths. Handrails run the complete length of the stairs with no interruption and extend beyond the top and bottom of the stairs by 12″. A tactile indicator at the end of the handrail indicates when the end of the stairs is near. Contrasting handrails provide better visibility.
Stairs should be checked for non-uniform steps–repair risers to be the same height, treads to be the same depth.
Stair treads should be distinguishable from one another. Stair nosings may be painted or stained a different color from the treads (never taped) or have metal/resilient nosings installed to contrast with the tread floorcovering.
Treads may be covered with a non-patterned, low-pile carpet firmly affixed to the tread with no cushion underlayment.
3-way light switches are to be located at the top and bottom landings to ensure available lighting at all times. Glare-free motion sensors should be at all entry steps. All entry steps should be protected from inclement weather with overhangs or awnings.
One entry into your home can be a no-step entry minimizing the number of falls while carrying groceries or fumbling for keys. Shower thresholds can also have no-step entries removing tripping factors and barriers. Steps accessing whirlpools are dangerous and should be clad with small slip-resistant tile. Grab bars or handrails should be at all wet locations regardless of the number of steps.
If building a new home or addition, locate the master suite and laundry on the first floor minimizing the use of stairs. If your home has several stories, install a toilet on each floor or research the installation of an elevator.
When using stairs, be focused and take your time. Use the handrails and encourage visitors to use the handrails. Avoid carrying items with both hands. Don’t carry bulky objects that block your vision. Wear suitable footwear. Remove your reading glasses or adjust your bifocals. Don’t talk on the phone or run down stairs to answer a doorbell. Install an intercom instead.
Keep stairways and landings free of all obstacles, spills and debris. Remove loose area rugs from top and bottom landings.
Glare on stairs can distort visual perception and result in momentary blindness. Reduce glare from stairwell windows with shades or sheers. Prevent glare on treads with matt finish cleaners. Keep stairwells evenly lit and burned bulbs replaced.
Stairwell photos and artwork displays are not a good idea. Attention brought to these items can result in loss of balance and falls.
Be aware of medications and their effect on your body. Eyesight, judgment and balance can be greatly compromised and falls may occur. Maintain an active lifestyle. Keep all eye prescriptions current.
SHOULD YOU STOP USING STAIRS?
Don’t necessarily avoid stairs, but let your doctor advise you of any special health problems that might limit stair use. According to Health Canada’s Stairway to Health Program, climbing stairs significantly contributes to the 30 minutes of physical activity you need every day and increases your leg power to help reduce falls.