Stairways can be the site of some serious injuries, with falls in these areas being particularly dangerous for older people. Unfortunately, older people are significantly more likely to have problems with walking, balance and vision, making them much more likely to be involved in these sorts of incidents. Many accidents can simply be chalked up to bad luck or a misplaced foot; however, if you own or operate the premises, you may find yourself vulnerable to legal action if your stairways are not properly constructed and maintained. Consider the following tips to make sure you—and your visitors—are adequately protected.
People with visual impairments (over 1.3 million Australians report living with blurred vision, or complete or partial blindness) are much more likely to have problems in negotiating stairs. A simple, inexpensive modification that can make your stairs much safer for people with limited vision is to add high contrast coloured nosings to the front edge and upper face of the step itself. These strips should contrast in colour and tone with the rest of the step (i.e. bright yellow or white nosings on a brown or black step) and should be present on every step in the staircase. This allows visually impaired people to discern the edges of the steps when ascending or descending and to differentiate the stairs from a ramp.
Tactile markings are extremely important for people who are fully blind and can also help to prevent accidents involving sighted people. Tactile markings on the ground, in the form of corduroy tiles placed at the top and bottom of a staircase, instantly notify an individual of an approaching change in level. This gives blind people notice to take care with their next step and can save absentminded people from a nasty fall.
Absolutely crucial to the safety of a staircase is the provision of robust, properly constructed handrails on both sides of the stairs. For disabled people with walking impairments or issues with balance, solid handrails are an essential point of support. Handrails should, therefore, be fixed solidly to the walls and railings and be of a sturdy construction and material. Stainless steel handrails offer a good level of support and visual contrast with very light and very dark coloured walls. A standard height of approximately 94 cm above the steps is a good general standard to adhere to.
A final point to consider is the beginning and end of the handrails: for visually impaired people, it is important that the handrails extend ahead of the first stair and beyond the point of the last stair at the bottom of the staircase, finishing properly by turning into the wall or the floor. This ensures that the user can, by feel alone, identify their position in relation to the steps. Good luck, and stay safe!