27 May 2021
Stairs are seemingly innocuous building elements, possibly because they are encountered so frequently, however, they are frequently found to contribute to injury and even fatality. In April 2017, The Queensland Supreme Court found the State of Queensland liable for injuries and consequent lost income sustained by a physiotherapist as she tripped and stumbled on a flight of hospital stairs. The Court found the inconsistency in riser heights was a foreseeable risk that could have been mitigated see here for more detail.
The National Construction Code (NCC) provides prescribed ranges in stair dimensions and allows for 5 mm tolerance in the dimensions of adjacent steps (risers), and no more than 18 risers in a single flight. But regardless of inconsistencies in dimensions, stairs are inherently risky and decisions by the courts suggest that liability is greater when stairs are used by the public compared to private use.
If you are responsible for stairs being used by the public, we recommend considering the conditions under which the stairs are used (e.g. will they get wet? Will users be intoxicated?) and apply the minimum safety features prescribed in the NCC. These features include sufficient lighting, handrails, high-contrast nosings and non-slip surfaces and will contribute to discharging your duty of care.