Stairway Safety in the Workplace: Avoiding Accidents and Injuries

climbing up the stairs

Stair Safety at A Glance

People generally have a low-risk perception of using the stairs, with risks leading to complacency and unsafe behavior. In recent years, stair-related accidents and injuries have continued to be a significant concern in the workplace.

According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, an average of 1,076, 558 individuals were treated in emergency departments across the country for stair-related injuries every year; amounting to almost 25,000,000 patients over the course of their 23-year study. Common injuries related to using dangerous stairways include sprains, strains, fractures, soft tissue injuries, falls, and even fatalities. Ensuring safe use of stairs is crucial to maintaining a safe workplace environment.

Employers must take the necessary precautions to ensure safety in the workplace to prevent injuries, loss of productivity, and costly legal battles. This article aims to provide an in-depth guide to stair safety in the workplace, including OSHA regulations, common stairway hazards, and accident prevention tips.

Anatomy of a Stairway and OSHA Stair Requirements

To understand staircase safety in the workplace, it is essential to identify the different parts of a stairway and OSHA compliance for each of these parts. 
According to OSHA 1910.25, employers must follow specific safety guidelines for stairs, including the following:
  1. Treads: A tread is the upper horizontal part of a step. Treads are required to have a minimum depth of 11 inches and a minimum width of 22 inches. They should be slip-resistant and free from obstructions. A uniform rise height and the right tread depth are also crucial to prevent falls and tripping hazards.
  2. Risers: A riser is the upright part of a step between two treads. Risers should have a minimum height of 4 inches and a maximum height of 7.5 inches. They should be uniform in height to prevent tripping and falling.
  3. Handrails: A handrail is part of a staircase that people hold on to for support when using the stairs. OSHA requires handrails to be provided on all stairs with four or more risers or with a rise height of more than 30 inches. They should be continuous and extend the full length of the stairway. Additionally, they should be graspable and have a diameter of at least 1.25 inches.
  4. Landings: The landing refers to the level part of the stairs, seen at the end of a flight of stairs. Landings are required at the top and bottom of each stairway flight. They should be at least as wide as the stairs and have a depth of at least 30 inches in the direction of travel. Landings should be slip-resistant and free from obstructions.
  5. Guardrails: Guardrails are barriers put up on the side of stairs to prevent people from falling. Guardrails are required on open sides of stairways that are 30 inches or more above the floor, ground, or other working surfaces. They should be at least 42 inches high and have a mid-rail at a height of 21 inches.
photo of a stairway

Recognizing and Addressing Common Stairway Hazards

Despite OSHA stair requirements and guidelines, stairway accidents still occur in most workplaces. Most mishaps on the staircase are rooted from two causes: Actions and Conditions.

Actions refer to the behavior of people going up and down the steps such as running, not paying attention to the handrail side, carrying heavy objects, using mobile phones, wearing inappropriate footwear, and the like. Conditions could be the absence of handrails, inadequate lighting, wet or icy steps, poor construction of the stairs, and so on.

The leading causes of stair-related accidents and injuries in the workplace include:

Defective Surfaces

Steps should be flat, level, free of obstructions, and in good condition. Defective surfaces such as those with corrosion, holes, grease, spills, or loose carpeting are common causes of stairway accidents.

These hazards can cause employees to slip, trip, or fall while using the stairs. To address these dangers, business owners should regularly inspect the stairway to identify any defects and repair them promptly. Employers should also ensure good housekeeping to prevent spills or debris from accumulating on the stairs.
Stair surfaces should also be non-slippery. Steps protected with slip-resistant paint or those made out of rubber, wood, or metal are ideal.

Hazardous Steps

There are 4 types of hazardous steps:

  • Short Step: Steps that are too small and do not provide enough support for the ball of the foot facing forward when descending stairs.
  • Slippery Step: Refers to steps with inadequate grip, most often at the edge or nosing of the step.
  • Surprise Step: Steps that are not expected or clearly visible, usually located at the bottom of a flight.
  • Irregular Steps: Steps that are longer or shorter than others in a flight.

Employers should make sure that all steps are of the same height and depth, have a non-slip surface, and are clearly marked.

Unsafe Handrails

Loose, broken, or missing handrails can cause employees to lose their balance and fall. Business owners should ensure that all handrails are securely fastened, free of defects, and at the correct height. To provide adequate support, the handrails should extend beyond the top and bottom steps.

Poor Visibility

A lot of stair mishaps happen because of misjudging the distances between steps. Therefore, adequate lighting and improved visibility on stairways are crucial to the safety of users.

  • Provide proper lighting: A minimum of 50 lux level of illumination with angular lighting is recommended. Motion-activated lights are a good option for reducing energy consumption.
  • Use contrasting: To improve depth perception of the stairs, it’s ideal to use contrasting, especially on the step edges or nosings, and handrails.
  • Improve the visual cues around the stairs and steps: Consider changing the color of the step edges to a brighter, more visible color. A matte finish is ideal to avoid glares. Installing safety signs such as “Watch Your Step” or “Use Handrails” along the stairway will also help reduce mishaps.
  • Keep it simple: Avoid using bright or patterned carpets that are distracting, and may hide the visibility of the step edges.

Wet or Icy Steps

Wet or icy steps are a major cause of slip-and-fall accidents. Management should ensure that any common walking surface, staircase, or stairway is clear of any ice, snow, or water. They should also provide slip-resistant mats or tread covers on the stairs.

watch your step signage

Safety Measures To Take to Ensure Safer Stairs and Reduce Risk of Accidents

To guarantee safe stair use in the workplace, business owners should implement the following:

Regular Stair Inspection

Employers should regularly inspect their stairways to identify any defects and repair them promptly. Installation of safety gates is also ideal for fall prevention.

Implementation of Operation Controls on Workplace Staircase Safety

Management should implement operation controls such as warning signs, barricades, gates and guardrails to prevent employees from accessing hazardous areas and avoid any stair related injury.

Addressing Employee Behavior on Stair Safety

Employers should train employees on stairwell safety tips and encourage them to report any defects or hazards. This will encourage employees to take extra precautions while on the stairway.

Ensuring Good Housekeeping

A proactive housekeeping team is fundamental not only to stairways but to the overall safety of the workplace, especially on high traffic areas. Their responsibilities include making sure that any debris, spills, wet spots, or any tripping hazard are immediately cleared and reporting or repairing lighting malfunctions. 

Compliance with OSHA Stair Requirements

Employers should comply with OSHA stair requirements, which include proper design, construction, and maintenance of stairways.

In conclusion, manufacturing business owners should prioritize stair safety in the workplace to prevent accidents and serious injuries. By identifying key hazards and implementing safety measures, they can provide safer stairways for their employees.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.