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

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

Edit image to illustrate proposed changes


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

See Stairs, Steps Further Information

See Stairs, Steps Videos