Why do we need to worry so much about falls on stairs?
Stairs: Helpful but Hazardous Since the Ancient Times
Stairs of all types have been used since ancient times, and because they are inherently hazardous, people have been falling on them, getting hurt or even killed in the process. In North America tens of people die and tens of thousand people get injured every year from the falls on stairs. The American National Council on Compensation Insurance estimated in 2001-2002 that the cost of such fall injuries was second only to those caused by motor vehicles.
The vast majority of stairway falls result from a loss of balance, just as falls are on the level. Please see our OSH Answers document on Prevention of Slips, Trips and Falls.
Safety Proof Your Stairs: Handrails Make All the Difference
A very common contributing factor is neglecting to use handrails. The consequences can be quite nasty.
Because stairway accidents can cause severe injury and even death, building codes for stairs and ramps are justifiably very rigorous. Good design can substantially reduce the potential for mis-stepping by providing us with the means to retrieve our balance, but even the best design cannot eliminate falling hazards entirely. The need for proper design also applies to ramps. The fact is that some incidents can be caused by inattention and unsafe behavior.
The best approach to minimize the hazard of falling down stairs is to encourage the building of well-designed stairways, combined with training focused on raising our awareness of the potential for disaster.