Safe Stairways in the Workplace


As an employer who maintains a workplace, you’re probably very careful about certain obvious hazards and foreseeable harm that could happen to an employee or customer on the property. While keeping the property maintained and clean is very important, there is one aspect that can trip people up (no pun intended) very easily if you’re not paying attention: Stairs.


Whether you have a single step at a front entrance or back door, or a flight of stairs that employees need to walk up or down periodically, there are ways to ensure that your steps are structurally safe, and also habits to instill in your employees so that they are using an appropriate level of care when using them.


The National Safety Council statistics indicate that falls are the third leading cause of unintentional death in the U.S. The most common locations for falls include: doorways, ramps, cluttered hallways, areas with heavy traffic, uneven surfaces, areas prone to wetness or spills, unguarded heights, unstable work surfaces, ladders, and stairs. Here are some of the best practices to keep your stairs safe and free of hazards:


Ensuring that your stairs are structurally sound and well-maintained


1. Steps should be free of clutter and in good shape. Damaged steps or treads are major factors in trip-and-fall accidents. Inspect regularly to be sure that all parts of the steps are intact. If your steps are wood, make sure that the material is not splintered, worn or cracked. If they are concrete, be sure that there are no crumbling spots. If you do spot any, be sure to have them patched immediately.


2. Painted yellow steps raise visual awareness. Painting the surface edge of your steps yellow or some other contrasting color will help the user to be more aware of where the edges are. High-visibility, 2”-3” grit-surfaced treads can also be placed at the edge of each step.


3. Step size and depth should be uniform. It’s a reality that not everyone is going to look down at his footing every time he takes a step; it’s also human nature to assume that if you’re going up or down a flight of stairs, they are going to be the same size and proportion. As the person who maintains company property, make sure that is the case in order to minimize the risk of falls. If you do not own the building, report any recognized property hazards to your landlord.


4. Inspect the handrails. Handrails are one of the most important aspects to using stairs safely. OSHA requires that handrails are required for workers near holes, open-sided floors, floor openings, wall openings, platforms, and runways. The OSHA requirements for handrails include the following:

  • Be able to withstand “a force of at least 200 pounds applied within two inches of the top edge, in any downward or outward direction, at any point along the top edge.” (OSHA)
  • Be at least 30 inches high, but not more than 34 inches from the upper surface to the surface of tread.
  • Be rounded in order for employees or customers to grasp them easily.

For a complete list of requirements for handrails, visit OSHA online.


5. Be sure to have plenty of light. Lights should be timed so that stairs are always lit as though it were daytime. Regularly inspect lighting to be sure that that there are no dim spots anywhere surrounding the stairs, including the top and bottom landings.


6. Landings should be flat and level. Landings must also be free from clutter at the top and bottom of staircases or stairwells. Landings should always be clear, flat and in safe condition.  For specific requirements for stair construction and landings, see page 21 of OSHA’s General Industry Digest.


7. Clear snow and ice immediately and often. Whether your stairs are for employees only or they welcome the public, it’s important that they be clear of snow and ice at all times when the business is open or when employees are on the premises. If it’s possible to install an awning over the stores, that will go a long way towards keeping them clear. If not, be sure to have a plan for ongoing de-icing and snow removal. Mats at the top and bottom of the stairs can help so that people can wipe their feet before using the steps, and be sure that your mats do not create a tripping hazard; even if you have an awning or are clearing ice and snow, some will still be tracked onto the steps from people’s shoes on a snowy day.


Educate your employees on best practices for using stairs


As part of the ongoing safety training that you provide to your employees, reminders about good practices for using stairs are important. Here are a few:

  • Always use handrails when ascending or descending stairs.
  • Avoid talking with other people or congregating on stairs.
  • Be aware of the stairs and watch where you’re going, even when the stairway is familiar to you.
  • Take one step at a time.
  • Wear correct and appropriate footwear, and keep your shoes tied.
  • Look where you are going. Put the smartphones away!
  • Do not run on stairs.
  • If you must carry an item that would block your view, get an assist from a coworker so that you can see where you’re going on the stairs.

Using stairs safely might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s often when we become complacent that accidents happen. Reminding your employees about good practices for stairs and making sure that your steps are well-maintained can prevent workplace injuries.