Stairway to Disaster: Examining the Common Causes of Slip and Fall Incidents on Stairs in Washington

Stairs can pose a serious slipping and tripping hazard if they are not properly designed, installed, and maintained. Falls on stairs account for a large number of injuries each year, some of which result in serious harm or even death. In this article, we will examine some of the most common causes of slip and fall incidents involving stairs in Washington state and steps you can take to avoid these preventable accidents.

Poor Lighting

Proper lighting is essential for avoiding slips and falls on stairs. Dimly-lit or unevenly-lit stairs can make it difficult to clearly see the steps and discern potential tripping hazards. Shadows or glare from windows can also obscure stair defects or make the depth of steps seem distorted.

Under Washington law, all stairways must be adequately lit and have a light switch installed at each floor level. For maximum safety, stairway lighting should be bright enough to eliminate shadows and allow users to see the edge of each step clearly. Lights with diffusers can create even lighting without glare. Outdoor stairs should have lights that automatically turn on at dusk to illuminate pathways.

In addition to overhead lighting, individual step lights or glow-in-the-dark tape can further improve visibility and reduce the risk of missteps in dim conditions. Motion sensor lights that automatically turn on when someone approaches the stairs are another good option.

Lack of Handrails

Handrails provide an important grasping point to stabilize yourself when using stairs. However, unfortunately, many residential staircases lack graspable handrails on both sides or have rails that are loose or poorly secured.

Washington law mandates that all stairways having four or more risers must have handrails on both sides. The handrails should be installed at a height between 34-38 inches above the stairs measured vertically from the nosing (leading edge) of the tread. They should be easy to grasp and able to support 250lbs of force. Damaged, loose, or improperly installed handrails should be repaired or replaced immediately.

Handrails should be constructed of rounded or oval-shaped material for easiest grasping. Flat handrails that are difficult to firmly grip can cause hands to slip off. Ideally, there should be 1 1/2 inches of clear space between the handrail and surrounding walls to allow users to comfortably wrap their hands around the rail.

Worn, Uneven, or Slippery Steps

Over time, stair treads can develop cracks, depressions, and uneven wear that create tripping hazards. Poor construction or materials can also lead to stairs with uneven risers or treads. Wet weather, spills, or polished surfaces can cause stairs to become dangerously slippery.

Property owners are required under Washington law to ensure stairs are maintained in good repair. Treads and risers should be level, even, and have slip-resistant surfaces. Carpeted stairs should have the carpeting securely fastened. Any defects like loose boards, worn covering, or broken steps should be fixed right away before an injury occurs. Improving traction using slip-resistant coatings and keeping stairs clear of debris can further reduce falls.

Outdoor stairs and pool area stairs are especially prone to becoming slippery. These stairs should have textured, grooved concrete surfaces to provide traction when wet. Any moss, algae growth, or pooled water should be promptly removed. Salting icy steps can also improve wintertime grip.

Lack of Markings or Visibility

Stairs that lack adequate markings on the leading edge of each step can contribute to missteps and falls, especially in dim lighting. The absence of contrast striping along the edges makes judging the location of steps difficult.

To enhance stair safety, the leading edge of each step should be marked with a stripe of bright, slip-resistant tape for easy visibility. Outdoor stairs and basement stairs should be painted with reflective paint for increased visibility. Adequate lighting paired with visibility aids provides key visual cues to prevent users from missing a step.

For long flights of stairs, landings should be marked with tactile warnings like textured pads or brightly colored surfaces to alert descending users that they are nearing another set of steps. This allows time to take due caution.

Clutter and Obstructions

It’s common for stairs to become cluttered with items like shoes, books, and toys. People may also leave cleaning supplies or tools on the staircase while working. Debris and obstructions on the stairs frequently lead to trips and falls.

Maintaining clear passage on stairways is vital. Ensure stairs remain completely unobstructed at all times. Install storage hooks or cabinets adjacent to the entryway to keep items off the stairs. Promptly clean up any spills. Never leave cleaning supplies, tools, laundry baskets, or other objects sitting on the staircase, even temporarily.

For households with young children, install gates at the top and bottom of stairs to prevent access and falls. Keep toys confined to play areas out of stairwells. Frequently pick up stray items left on the stairs like Legos or marbles that can be easily overlooked and cause slips.

Improper Stair Design

Some staircases are simply designed in an unsafe manner that increases risks. Stairs that are too narrow or steep, lack proper landing platforms, or have open risers can cause falls. Outdoor stairs may lack proper drainage, causing water accumulation and slippery algae growth.

When constructing new stairs or remodeling, ensure all building codes and safety standards are followed. A qualified contractor can assess the staircase design and recommend improvements for slip and fall prevention. Improperly designed stairs may need extensive repairs and reconstruction.

Look for potential issues like:

  • Stair width less than 36 inches
  • Steep angle over 42 degrees
  • Lack of landing between floors
  • Excessive stair riser height over 7 inches
  • Uneven or inadequate tread depth under 11 inches
  • Open risers allowing objects to fall through
  • Insufficient or absent nosings

Slips and falls on unsafe stairs result in serious bone fractures, head injuries, back injuries, and other harms each year. Though stair accidents may seem trivial, they can leave victims with chronic pain, disability, and emotional trauma. By taking proactive measures to identify and correct hazards through improved design, maintenance, and lighting, many devastating stairway falls can be prevented.

If you or a loved one have suffered an injury in a fall on an unsafe staircase that was not properly maintained, help may be available. One of our experienced personal injury attorneys can evaluate the particular circumstances in your case and advise you on any legal remedies that will help you recover damages for medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. Call now for a free consultation on (888) 477-0597 if you have been hurt in a stairway fall accident. With 32 offices in 19 states including Washington, Maryland, and Iowa, we can help you obtain justice after your injury.