Safer Work Stairs and Steps

The Safer Work Stairs and Steps Information Sheet provides practical advice on four interdependent elements of safer stairs and steps - no one element should be considered in isolation.

Safer Steps Elements

  • Every working day one person is hurt in a slip, trip or fall on work stairs or steps
  • Descending is associated with many accidents
  • Slips are more common (than trips or falls)

1. Operational Controls

Operational Controls are the rules and policies around the use of stairs and steps

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In 2014, 71% of relevant HSA workplace visits found no activities restricted on stairs, steps

  • Users should remove/replace spectacles if required

2. Environmental Controls

Environmental Controls refer to the visual cues around stairs and steps

Stair terms

  • Provide lighting of at least 100 lux at the tread
  • Consider photoluminescent step edges/ nosings and handrails for emergency stairs/ step(s)
  • Consider a different-coloured step edge/ nosing at the top and bottom steps for last step confirmation

Visual Contrast and Visual Contrast Checks

Contrasting step edges/nosings and handrails are about lightness or darkness, not colour. Colours that look different may have little visual contrast.

  • Check the Light Reflectance Value (LRV) of adjoining surfaces with information from the manufacturer/ supplier. Ensure an LRV difference of at least 30 between adjoining surfaces for visual contrast

LRV Scale

  • A black and white image can provide a useful indication of the visual contrast

Visual Contrast Assessment image

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In 2014, 31% of relevant HSA workplace visits found stairs did not have clearly visible contrasting nosings


3. Hazardous Steps

There are 4 types of hazardous steps – Slippery, Surprise, Short and Irregular.

a) Slippery Step

A slippery step does not have enough grip, especially at the step edge/nosing.

  • See the Safer Work Stairs and Steps Information Sheet for advice
  • Signs should only be used where hazards cannot be avoided or reduced
  • On level surfaces, people generally slip on wet surfaces or wet shoes
  • On stairs or steps, people could slip if there in inadequate support for the ball of the foot - see Short Steps

b) Surprise Step

A surprise step is not clearly visible or expected. It could be at the bottom of a flight or a single unexpected step.

Warning stripes

c) Short Step

A short step does not provide adequate support for the ball of the foot for safe forward-facing descent.

Risky Goings

d) Irregular Step

An irregular step is longer or shorter than the other steps in a flight.

  • See the Safer Work Stairs and Steps Information Sheet for advice
  • Signs should only be used where hazards cannot be avoided or reduced
  • On 250mm goings, a large overstep occurs every 10 days
    • With one 250mm going reduced by 15mm (less than a one cent coin), a large overstep occurs every 2 days
  • On 300mm goings, a large overstep occurs every 73 years
    • With one 300mm going reduced by 15mm (less than a one cent coin), a large overstep occurs every 3 years
  • Marking more than one step with warning stripes could be visually confusing and ineffective 

Warning stripes

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In 2016, 96% of relevant HSA construction workplace visits found the main site contact had not heard of the Crouch-and-Sight test


4. Handrails

Power grip on handrail

  • Consider a handrail on the right-hand-side for descent
    • Descending is associated with many accidents
    • Most people are right-handed

When Considering Changes

When considering changes, it may be helpful to edit an image to illustrate proposed changes beforehand

Edit image to illustrate proposed changes


See Stairs, Steps Further Information

See Stairs, Steps Videos