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Stair Safety Overview - Stair falls and injuries

It is true that people of all ages fall on stairs. How do you reduce this risk? Read our article to find out.

It is true that people at all ages fall on stairs, however, ‘falling is an epidemic that plagues the elderly more than any other segment of the population’. Falls are the leading cause of admission to residential care facilities and to hospital and are the most common cause of injury related death, accounting for 30% of all injury related deaths. It has been reported that, in Australia, approximately one in three older people aged 65 and over experienced falls at least once a year. Fall incidence occurring on the stairs accounted for 12% of all fall injuries in the home. Despite the relatively smaller proportion, the risks of falls on stairs are greater than those on the floor as the consequences are likely to be more serious, particularly falling on descent. It is incorrect is assume that falls are caused by carelessness and lack of attention among users. Initiatives for stair safety have given rise to installation of auxiliary devices such as handrails and warning signs. However, consideration of stair design itself is also important.

There are three major factors acting individually (or in combination) to stair falls:

  1. user behaviour, including the characteristics of the stair users, 
  2. maintenance, including the way stair are constructed, and 
  3. design, including the environment in which stairs are set.

The reduction in stair falls can be most effectively and fundamentally achieved thorough elimination of design-induced falls; the likelihood of stair accidents can be decreased by way of an improved design. Examples of poor design include; large gaps in a balustrade, irregular sized rises and goings, too steep a pitch and goings being too narrow (see the figure on this page).

The potential danger inherent in staircases is balanced with the fact that they are environmentally-friendly and healthy method of getting from one floor to another in that they encourage physical activity at home and the workplace. Building well-designed stairs and modifying the stair environment is therefore an important step to enjoying the advantages of stairs while minimising the danger.


Jung, Y. M. & Bridge, C. (2009). Stairs - Summary bulletin. Sydney: Home Modification Information Clearinghouse, University of New South Wales. November 2009 [online]. Available from

Published on: 03-Aug-2010. Topic/s: Stairs 101,Stair safety, compliance, and regulations