Stairs and Steps Safeguards to Control Slips, Trips and Falls

  • Every working day one person slips, trips or falls on stairs, steps at work
  • Descending is associated with many

Operational safeguards for stairs and steps


  • Take particular care descending stairs and steps
  • Use signs to show location of lifts
  • Where available, use a lift to go down
  • Use the handrail, as needed
  • Take particular care at entrance/exit stairs and steps
  • Keep stairs and steps clean, tidy & dry
  • Clean carefully - ideally when closed
  • Remove or replace spectacles as required 
  • Descend backwards using handrails if safer, e.g. limited goings, vehicle steps

Stairs mandatory signs

Signs are the last line of defence where hazards cannot be avoided or adequately reduced 


  • Do not permit distractions around stairs and steps, e.g. notice boards, material on treads
  • Do not use hand-held devices, phones on stairs and steps 
  • Do not read or look at documents on stairs and steps 
  • Do not rush on stairs and steps 
  • Do not carry items, especially open liquid - use lifts, dumb waiters
  • Do not store items on stairs and steps
  • Do not use stairs or steps with hands in pockets
  • Do not allow lights to be switched off accidentally

Stairs prohibition signs

Signs are the last line of defence where hazards cannot be avoided or adequately reduced 

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

Structural safeguards for stairs and steps

  • Provide lighting of at least 100 lux at tread
  • Ensure the tread and nosing have adequate slip resistance
  • Stairs and steps may require greater slip resistance than expected for straight walking on a horizontal surface


  • Ensure handrail(s) at the correct height, have a visual contrast and permit a power grip
  • External handrails should be warm to touch
  • Local lighting can be provided at/in handrails

Power grip on handrail

Visual Contrast Check

  • Check the Light Reflectance Value (LRV) of adjoining surfaces with the manufacturer/ supplier. Ensure a difference of at least 30 between adjoining surfaces for visual contrast
  • A black and white image may provide a useful indication of visual contrast

Visual Contrast Assessment image

  • Visual contrast should highlight nosings and handrails
  • A visually contrasting nosing may be vital to highlight an unexpected step

Visual contrast can highlight difficult-to-see steps to prevent an "air step". Visual contrast can be measured as LRV using specialist equipment. LRV indicates a lightness or darkness value. Colours that look different may, in fact, have little contrast

Going Length

Stair terms

When descending stairs, the forefoot lands first

  • Ensure the going is long enough to adequately support the foot when descending
  • It should be possible to visually assess if a foot adequately fits on a step for safe descent

Risky goings

  • The average male shoe is 290mm long
      • On 250mm goings, a large overstep occurs every 10 days
      • On 300mm goings, a large overstep occurs every 73 years
  • Building Control Authorities, not the Health and Safety Authority, enforce Building Regulations (including going lengths)
  • If short goings cannot be corrected, operational safeguards (above) and the clarity of visual prompts (such as contrasting step nosings) may be vital

Step Consistency

  • Ensure all steps are consistent
    • 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
  • An irregular step, which cannot be corrected and has a fall risk, should be marked with alternating yellow and black stripes or red and white stripes.  For some visually impaired people, floor coverings with striped patterns should be avoided
    • Marking more than one step with alternating stripes could be visually confusing and ineffective 

Crouch-and-sight test

The crouch-and-sight test provides a very useful visual indication if steps could be inconsistent, requiring further measurements.

  1. Stand at the top of a flight of steps
  2. Slowly crouch and look (sight) down the step nosings
  3. If nosings do not all line up, steps may not be consistent

Crouch and sight test

Note this does not guarantee step consistency - take detailed measurements for certainty

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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

Step check

A homemade step check gauge can indicate the consistency of steps

  • If steps are inconsistent, it may be possible to correct faults by adjusting nosings, packing or reducing a step, or similar adjustments. Where steps cannot be made consistent, additional safeguards may be very important.  

Step check process

  1. Get a large envelope, a ream of A4 paper, a stiff card with or something similar with straight edges that can be used as a gauge
  2. Check the bottom step by placing the gauge on it and sliding it until it touches the nosing of the higher step. Then record the rise and going by marking them on the gauge
  3. Move the gauge to the next step and see if the going and rise line up with the marks on the gauge. Note any differences
  4. One by one, check all steps with the gauge, noting any differences
  5. If required the length of the going and the height of the rise can be measured on the gauge
  6. If faults are noted they should be corrected as far as possible, for example by adjusting nosings, packing or reducing a step. Where faults cannot be corrected, additional safeguards should be taken as required


Step nosing position

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

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