Injury experts call them “stairwell systems” and it’s amazing how many people are hurt each year from falling while going up or down stairs. It’s estimated that as many as 5,000,000 people are hurt each year from these falls.
Here in Florida, stairs are everywhere: they are indoors and outdoors; covered and uncovered; carpeted and bare; some are several stories high and others are just a few steps to get you from poolside to the parking area. Stair fall accidents are sometimes the cause of temporary injuries (like broken wrists, fractured ankles, cuts and bruises); but they can also cause permanent damage (paralysis, brain injury) and even death. Falling down stairs can be a life-changing event.
Research into stairwell safety and injuries from accidents caused by stairwell systems shows that the causes for most people being hurt in these accidents relate to:
1. Height of Steps: Dangerous Rise
Most people take stairs and stairways for granted, but they are complex structures made of things like balusters; flights; landings; guardrails; posts; rises; runs; and slopes.
Stair steps that rise at a height of 39 degrees have been found to cause a large percentage of all stair fall accidents. Some research shows stairs with a rise at a height of 40% or higher have been found to be involved in most stair falling deaths.
2. Surface of Steps
Tread surface is another major factor in stair fall injuries. Stair footpaths are made of all sorts of things. Carpet, paved stone, ceramic tile, painted wood, marble, asphalt, and many other surfaces are found on Florida stairwell systems.
Tread surface needs to be more than an interior designer’s decision. The type of tread surface works with the rise of the steps and the movement of the human foot to help you climb or descend the stairs safely.
Tread surfaces need to support you. Slippery steps may look pretty in a hotel lobby but they may be extremely hazardous and causes of a serious fall.
Tread surfaces on outdoor stairwells need to be prepared for all sorts of weather conditions, too. Wet stairs during summer storms need to have tread surfaces with sufficient traction to enable people to rise and descend on the stairs regardless of hazardous weather conditions.
3. Depth of step and riser height
A stair riser is the height of one step. Stairways need to be built to accommodate our walking gait with enough room on each stair step to allow the foot to find hold. Florida Building code states the maximum riser height is 7 ¾”. The greatest riser height shall not exceed the smallest by more than 3/8”.
A stair tread is that part of the stair step on which you walk or step. Most Florida building codes now have a requirement that risers in Florida stairs have a rise height that is within 3/8 of an inch variation from the standard. Additionally, most codes set a minimum 10 inch stair tread for public stairs with different tread minimums for private stairwells.
4. Hand rails
Handrails are known to be a design favorite for architects and interior designers. Here in Florida, you can find unique rails along stairs made up of all sorts of things (nautical themed ropes, carved bone, etc.) and in creative dips and curves.
However, the most serious injuries (and deaths) in Florida stair accidents happen because of handrail failure in either (1) maintenance (broken, weak, wobbly)); (2) elevation from the stair path; or (3) design of the rail itself. Handrails along any stair path need to be built and maintained for their real purpose: keeping people safe as they move up and down the stairs.
Most stairwells will have a railing along at least one side (usually the right side as one descends) here in Florida. Others will have railings on both sides of the stairway. If the total rise of the stairway (from one level to the next) is over 30 inches, then safety protocols dictate that a handrail should be there for use when climbing or descending the stairs.
According to Florida Building Code, hand rails should have the top of the rail no less than 34” and not more than 38” from the nose of the stair’s foot step. These rails should be easy to see, sturdy, and solid.
Falls on stairs here in Florida can happen when proper care is not given to stairway hand rails. A stair rail that is missing, that is loose, or that is broken can fail to help someone who is in need of that rail’s support as they walk the stairs. In these falls, it is the failure of the hand rail, not the stairs themselves, which causes injury and harm.
All stairways and stairwells need to have proper lighting so they can be easily seen at any time of the day or night. There is a national standard for how stairs are to be lit, and most Florida building codes keep to this rule of one foot candle (the amount of light given off by a single candle one foot away) at tread level.
Lighting the stairs is obviously important in dark places like theaters, bars, nightclubs, and auditoriums. However, stairs are also dangerous if they are not well-lit when they are placed in a spot where someone enters the stairway from the bright outdoors and needs some time before their vision accumulates to the change from outdoors to indoors.
Many Florida stair fall lighting accidents happen not because of a dark space, but because of the bright Florida sun and a failure of a stairwell to provide enough light to help eyesight transition from full sun to interior stairwell.
6. Warning Signs
Signs that alert you to the dangers of a stairway or stairwell are needed in many stair locations. If the stairs are outside where they may be wet and slippery, for instance, then special signs warning “slippery when wet” are needed.
Steep steps likewise need danger warnings like “watch your step” or “short step” or “please use handrails” to keep people safe as they use the stairs. This is particularly important if the owners or operators have reason to know that there are inherent dangers in the design of the stairs and/or the handrails.
An absence of warning signs can and does lead to stair fall injuries by unsuspecting victims of their hidden dangers.
Florida Stair Fall Injuries
If you or a loved one has been hurt in a fall down the stairs, then you may have an injury claim under Florida law for negligence in design or maintenance of those stairs. Florida safety regulations may also apply here and getting the help of a Florida injury attorney can help you get justice.
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