Common hazards on stairs and stairways to look out for
There are many common hazards on stairs and stairways that can increase the risk of a fall, these include:
- open treads (staircases that have gaps or hollow spaces between each step): it’s 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 carpet 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.
How to reduce 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 also suggest exercises to improve strength, balance and mobility to help with going safely up and down stairs.
Other ways to reduce the risk of falls on the stairs include:
- colour-contrasted nosing on the edge of each stair will make it easier to see the edge
- 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
- if you have had a fall, there are things you can do to reduce the chances of it happening again – our article on falls prevention explains what to do.
Having hand rails (also 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 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.
Read more about installing additional stair rails.
Using walking sticks or frames on the stairs
If you need to use a walking stick to help with going up and down stairs, there’s a specific technique to this. It’s important to master this because using a walking stick incorrectly on the stairs could put you at greater risk of a fall. It’s something best explained and demonstrated by a physiotherapist. For more advice, read our advice on how to use a walking stick.
If you use a walking frame, leave one at the top of the stairs and another at the bottom. Trying to carry a walking frame up and down the stairs is unsafe.
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