Defective staircases or steps are common causes of serious injuries.  Many buildings are built without checking all of the dimensions and safety protocols for the staircases. There are many building codes and safety regulations that govern the building and specifications for steps and stairways.  These regulations detail the proper height (maximum and minimum) of the risers, landings, guards and handrails and coefficient of friction.  The coefficient of friction is a measure of how “slippery” the treads on the stairs can be in both dry and wet conditions.

These regulations and building codes were created to help minimize the potential for serious accidents when people traverse stairs.  For instance, the regulation pertaining to the height of stair risers requires that each tread must not only be within a certain height, but also, that the deviation between each step cannot be too large. 

When people go up and down steps they get used to lifting their feet the same amount for each step riser.  If those risers are not uniform, then the person may not lift his/her foot enough from one step to the other causing them to trip on the next riser and fall down the steps.

There also needs to be enough room on the actual step tread for the foot to step safely.  If the tread is too narrow and only a part of the foot can step on the tread, this can also cause an accident.

Handrails and guards also need to be built to certain specifications to prevent falls over the open side of any staircase.  The handrails also need to be built to a height of between 34 and 38 inches above the tread. And the diameter of the handrail must be such that a person attempting to grab the handrail can hold on tightly and prevent a fall from occurring.  Handrails also need to be installed for the full length of the stairwell and not just part of it.

The treads of the stairs also need to be free from trip or slip hazards.  Carpeting that is loose or worn can pose such a threat.  Also, spills on the treads can make them slippery leading to serious accidents.  Treads may need to have slip resistant surfaces or be covered in a slip resistant tape. Loose treads or treads with cracks or holes also pose a dangerous hazard.

Stairwells must also be wide enough and have enough headroom to make it safe to go up and down the staircase.  Landings are required at all door openings and are required to be at least as wide as the stairs, if not wider.

From a visual standpoint, stair treads need to be visible.  Stairs that are built in such a manner that people cannot easily see the distinction between each tread are hazardous.  This is why the kickplates behind the treads are usually a different color than the tread.