How to avoid dangerous trip hazards in buildings

Annette-FisherSteps and staircases become necessary when there is a change in level such as on a sloping site or negotiating buildings that are higher than a single storey.

A typical three or four bedroom and two storey house will include a staircase taking you from ground floor to the first floor where the private accommodation are including bedrooms and bathrooms.

In general steps should be included where there is reason for them and not just as superfluous design detail as they can then be hazardous.

The human body can easily navigate a staircase that has even treads and risers; in other words that the height and depth of each step is exactly the same. The only time that should change is at a landing, which is a point at which a staircase has a break in the run of steps either to change direction as in an L-shaped staircase or simply to break the length of run of the staircase.

A landing should normally be square so that it’s length is the same as the overall staircase width. The maximum number of steps in one flight of stairs is 16 –after that there should be a landing and then additional steps as required to reach the next floor level.

There are international standards and even local building regulations that specify these requirements for the comfort and safety of users in building staircases.

A staircase is also structurally sound and is self-supporting especially as a poured concrete staircase. It will stand without the introduction of additional columns or any other forms of support.

Think back to any war time movies that you watch where there have been bombings of buildings- you will often see that where a house has crumbled after an explosion that the only structural element still standing is the lonely staircase. I also remember as a girl during our civil war being told to hide under the staircase in the event of any bomb scare.

To build an accurate staircase it has to been designed and built from an architectural drawing that provides dimensions for required heights widths and depths to achieve an even run from one level to another.

Unfortunately often staircases here seem to be built in an ad hoc manner without the benefit of any detailed information and the result is usually misshapen uneven steps, which form a dangerous trip hazard to the occupants. We also often find here a step or two within a living/dining room for absolutely no reason making it dangerous to move around especially for the very young or the very old.

If you decide to introduce a step or split level within a space that works as well as a flat safe surface then ask your architect or designer if it is absolutely necessary otherwise it shouldn’t be there.
• Fisher is the Managing Partner, FA Global and Alternative Vice President, Europe, Commonwealth Association of Architects

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