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Shocking statistics and personal stories of injuries caused by falls and accidents on stairs drove home the need for greater stair safety in discussions on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show as part of the inaugural Stair Safety Day, organised by the British Woodworking Federation (BWF).
Hannah Mansell, BWF technical manager and manager of the BWF Stair Scheme, spent more than 20 minutes being interviewed and providing advice to callers phoning in to the show, many of whom gave graphic details of their experiences of accidents on stairs.
Andy Richardson phoned in to talk about how he had become paralysed from the chest down with loss of all hand function nine years ago after falling down a flight of stairs, while another caller described how he fainted with the shock of a fall while carrying his four-year-old son downstairs.
It’s an alarmingly common phenomenon. It is estimated that there is a fall on stairs every 90 seconds in the UK, and a further estimated 250,000 non-fatal accidents which are serious enough to merit a trip to A&E. Even worse, according to Government statistics there were 787 deaths in England and Wales in 2015 caused by a fall on steps or stairs – that’s more than two people dying every day.
Stair safety at work
But while the focus of that day’s phone-in was mainly on stairs within the home, stair safety is also of vital importance in commercial buildings and places of work.
It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 accidents every year on stairs in the workplace. According to the HSE, the industries most affected by stairway falls are the service industries, followed by manufacturing and construction. A third of reported fall accidents in the food and drink industry also occur on stairs. This is often due to the stairs being contaminated with water or food product, or the use of inappropriate footwear.
Critically, the rules and regulations for the manufacture and installation of common stairs are different from stairs for private dwellings. A variety of factors need to be taken into consideration when designing stairs for commercial buildings such as fire safety, increased loadings and accessibility for all users.
Users of common stairs may have a wide variety of requirements in order for them to safely use the stair. In addition, they may not be familiar with the stair and there may be a higher volume of users to contend with. Tiny details and dimensional limitations within the design are critical to ensuring that the stair is safe for all, and compliant with relevant regulations.
As Hannah Mansell explains, “The terrible stories that I heard during Stair Safety Day really reinforced to me and to millions of others exactly why stair safety is so important. A single slip can result in life-changing injuries.
“But there are also easy ways that both employers and employees can reduce these riskswhen using stairs. While it’s not against any law to use stairs without holding onto a handrail, I do know of many employers who insist their workers use the handrail and make this part of their health and safety inductions.
“A big part of safety is about behaviour, proper lighting, secure coverings and common sense. Good design of stairs and handrail systems and builders’ adherence to regulations also has an important part to play.
“That’s why we ran Stair Safety Day, in order to raise awareness and to get across some helpful advice. The messages broadcast on Stair Safety Day are relevant to all types of stairs regardless of whether they are communal or domestic.”
New design guide on commercial stairs
To provide greater assistance to stair designers, manufacturers and building professionals, the BWF Stair Scheme will be publishing a new design guide for communal stairs in the non-domestic sector in May 2017.
Providing industry guidance and the minimum requirements for the manufacture of common timber stairs, it will help to clarify the bewildering and often contradictory rules and regulations. The guide covers a range of topics including building regulations, the dimensional layout of stairs, fire safety and material selection. Information is also provided on component dimensions and staircase classification.
It’s will be the latest publication from the BWF Stair Scheme which was established in 2011 to raise awareness of timber stair standards, to accredit to high quality manufacturers and to improve safety. The scheme is the only accreditation and certification scheme of its kind in the UK and accounts for approximately 70% of the timber stair market.
BWF Stair Scheme tips for stair safety at work
- Switch on the lights: Even the rarely used stairs at the back of your office, factory or warehouse should be well-lit. Don’t navigate stairs in the dark.
- Tread carefully: Ensure you have sufficient foothold on each tread, use the widest side of a winder step and make sure that any footwear is appropriate.
- Avoid athletics: Don’t play, run or jump on the stairs, climb or slide on the handrail – go at a sensible speed and never try to take more than one step at a time.
- Identify and remove any trip hazards: Leaving or storing boxes, office furniture or other objects on staircases (or landings) is a common cause of accidents and can easily be avoided.
- Remember to hold tight: Use the handrail and whenever possible keep your other hand free.
- Stay alert: Don’t get distracted while using the stairs – best to check your phone only when you have completed this part of your journey.
A stair safety fact sheet is available to download on the BWF Stair Scheme website.