If you are going to have an accident where is it most likely to occur? Hiking, walking, climbing, flying, working, driving even. The simple answer is, the most dangerous place you visit is your home. Every year across the UK, there are approximately 6,000 deaths as a result of home accidents and 2.7 million people visit their local accident and emergency departments seeking help (source RoSPA).
Children under the age of five years and people in later life (those over the age of 65, and particularly those over 75) are most likely to have an accident at home. Surprisingly the living room is the most dangerous place in the house with accidents being caused by a mix of hot drinks, fires, tripping on rugs, children putting sweets and small toys in all sorts of parts of their bodies and the inevitable DIY. And one of the most common accidents? Falls, which can cause serious injury at any time of life, but the risk increases with age. And where do most of these falls occur? On stairs, both main staircase and loft access. According to Bill Bryson (At Home, a short history of private life) ‘it has been calculated that you are likely miss a step once in every 2,222 occasions you use the stairs, suffer minor accident once in every 63,000 uses, a painful accident once in every 734,000 and need hospital attention once every 3,616,667 uses.’
Children it should be noted rarely die in falls, they bounce reasonably well. Households with children are more likely to have accidents, simply because the little darlings leave things on stairs and people fall over them. The elderly do suffer though. Over 80% of people who die in stair falls at home are sixty five or older. At that age one doesn’t bounce well at all.
So how can falls on stairs be avoided? We could witter on extensively about stair design; there are building regulations and guidelines about the rise (the height of the steps) 150 to 220mm, the going (the horizontal measurement from nosing to nosing) 220 to 300mm and the pitch (angle) of the stairs; a maximum of 42 degrees. Then there’s the balustrade, spindles and the requirement for handrails: for all parts of the staircase where the vertical drop is 600mm or greater, a handrail must be provided between 900 and 1000mm above the pitch line or, on a landing, the floor. Where the stairs are 1000mm wide or more, a handrail should be mounted on both sides. You get the idea – lots of design constraints. We arrived at these simply because of the number of accidents people had on stairs and particularly how stair design evolved to meet the constraints of bipeds like you and me. Get it wrong and we’ll struggle with the ascent and more importantly, where most accidents occur with assistance of gravity, the descent.
Regulations are all very well of course but a lot of UK housing stock is far from new and we have the stairs the house comes with. What most people do, particularly as they age or have children, is adapt by putting in additional safety features. For young children (and sometimes the elderly suffering from dementia) stair gates are used to prevent access. For those who need a little more help getting up and down additional rails can be provided. There is a wide selection of designs available and many provide an attractive solution. Contact 50plus if you’d like some advice.