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Stairs are a particular risk area for falls, so take extra care to make them as safe as possible.

On this page we give advice on:

1. Common hazards on stairs and stairways
2. Reducing the risk of falls on the stairs
3. Hand rails
4. Walking aids

Common hazards on stairs and stairways

  • Open treads (staircases that have gaps or hollow spaces between each step): it is much easier to trip, and they can be disorienting to people with poor vision.
  • 'Nosing', or protrusions over the edge of the step.
  • Worn, frayed or loose carpets or stair runners.
  • Loose floor boards.
  • Unsecured rugs placed at the top or bottom of the stairs.
  • Poor lighting along the stairs.
  • A lack of adequate stair rails or loose/poorly attached stair rails.
  • Furniture placed on the stairs, or objects temporarily left on the stairs.

Reducing the risk of falls on the stairs

There are various techniques and devices that can help older people walking up and down the stairs. A good piece of general advice is to lead with the stronger leg when going up the stairs (‘the good goes up’), and let the weaker leg lead when going down the stairs (‘the bad goes down’). An occupational therapist or physiotherapist will be able to demonstrate these techniques in more detail. A physiotherapist can all suggest exercises to improve strength, balance and mobility to help with going safely up and down stairs.

  • A colour-contrasted nosing on the edge of each stair will make it easier to see the edge of the stair.
  • A carpet colour that strongly contrasts with the walls will make it easier to use the stairs. If this is not currently the case, consider replacing the carpet for one of a different colour or re-painting the walls.
  • A small degree of forward planning can potentially reduce the number of times that stairs need to be used during the day.
  • Lighting should cover the entire stairway, as well as at the top and bottom, such as landings.

Hand rails

Having hand rails (also sometimes called stair rails) on both sides of the stairway can offer good support when using the stairs. Many staircases have a hand rail on one side, but not both – if this is the case in your loved one’s home, you may want to consider having one fitted on the other side. The length and style of the rails (there are various types) can be important, too, as some are easier to grip than others. 

Walking aids

If your relative needs to use a walking stick to help with going up and down stairs, there is a specific technique to this, too. It’s important that they learn this, because using a walking stick incorrectly on the stairs could put them at greater risk of a fall. Again, this is something best explained and demonstrated by a physiotherapist. For more advice, read how to use a walking stick in Which? product reviews for staying independent at home.

If your relative uses a walking frame, leave one at the top of the stairs and another at the bottom, as trying to carry a walking frame up and down the stairs is unsafe.

More information

Page last reviewed: November 2016
Next review due: August 2017