The inherent risk of stairs
By Alex Wood
21 March 2018
Stairs are seemingly innocuous building elements, possibly because they are encountered so frequently. However, they are often found to contribute to injury and even fatality. Check out how many people trip over a slightly over-sized step in a New York subway.
In February 2017, The Queensland Supreme Court found the State of Queensland liable for injuries and consequent lost income incurred by a physiotherapist as she tripped and stumbled on a flight of hospital stairs. The Court found the inconsistency in step 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 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 only.
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.