A tumble down the stairs often ends in bumps, bruises, and injured pride — but sometimes the outcome is far more serious. No one wants to think of concussions, broken bones, or death as being a possibility every time they use the stairs, but the fact is, if we’re not careful, they certainly can be.
As a homeowner, stair safety is one responsibility you don’t want to ignore. Luckily, making your stairs safer doesn’t require much work.
Here are six simple ways to do just that.
Provide Proper Lighting
The first step (no pun intended) to a safer staircase is adequate lighting. If you can’t see where you’re going, you’re far more likely to fall. Stairs should never have lower illumination levels than adjacent areas, so make sure the lights over your stairs have the same wattage as those in the surrounding hallways.
Use low-glare overhead lighting to make tread nosings clearly visible and prevent strong shadows. Be sure to install light switches at both the bottom and the top of the stairs so you don’t have to traverse an unlit staircase; and placing nightlights in hallways and landings for added visibility won’t hurt.
Visibility also comes into play with each individual stair tread. Paint a contrasting color on the nosing of each step — a stripe works well and looks good even on carpet. As lovely as they might be, it’s best to steer clear of visually distracting patterns on the treads.
For carpeted stairs, keep tread coverings thin and tightly affixed. Soft treads — especially those that are short with a large rounded nosing should be avoided. If your stairs are wood, concrete, or tile, you’ll want to apply something to the surface for added traction. Three long strips of non-skid tape on each step should do the trick. If you prefer your stairs look as natural as possible, go for a skid-resistant surface treatment.
Don’t forget to check the condition of the stairs themselves. Uneven steps, cracks, bunched-up stair-coverings, or protruding nails will need to be repaired as soon as possible.
Don’t Neglect the Handrails
Since well-designed handrails greatly reduce the chance of a fall, they’re strongly recommended, regardless of the number of steps.
Here are some guidelines to follow:
- If at all possible, install functional handrails on both sides of stairs.
- Handrails should extend the full length of the stairs, and slightly beyond the top and bottom, without a break.
- Attach rails securely to walls and posts with stable handrail brackets. An adult should be able to put their entire weight on the handrail without damaging it, the wall, or the post.
- Handrails should rest at adult elbow height (35 ½ to 38 in.)
- An adult should be able to wrap their hand completely around the handrails, so a circumference of 6 ¼ in. or less is advised.
Gate It Up
If you live with small children, vulnerable seniors, or pets, a safety-gate is a must-have. When choosing a gate, make sure you get one that is up-to-date with current safety regulations. Avoid gates that have gaps or notches that could be used for climbing. Hardware-mounted gates have proven to be the most secure, so use them when at all possible, and if for nothing else, at the top of the stairwell. Pressure-mounted gates are not stable enough to prevent falls from the top of the stairs.
Eliminate Tripping Hazards
We tend to keep a lot of items around stairways that are major tripping hazards. Here are a few to be mindful of:
- Area rugs at the top of stairways are a tripping hazard, so they’re best done away with.
- Electrical cords. Use some tape or wire staples to pin electrical cords along the baseboards where they’re nice, neat, and out of the way.
- Furniture near or on the landings should be rearranged to keep pathways open.
- Storing anything on the stairs, even temporarily. While there’s plenty of decor that can add to the aesthetic of your stairs, it all increases the risk of falls.
Drop the Distractions
When using the stairs, it’s important to pay attention and proceed with caution. Use at least one handrail at all times, and avoid carrying anything which requires two hands or blocks your line of vision. As tempting as it is, don’t text, email, type, or search on mobile phones or other devices while using the stairs. If your eyes aren’t on the stairs, then neither is your attention!
The truth is, most stair falls can be prevented; and that prevention starts by acknowledging that there are always risks when using the stairs. By implementing simple strategies, keeping your stairs in good shape, and staying focused, you can help put an end to falls and serious injuries in the home.