It’s 20 degrees, dusk and the steps have snow and some ice. It’s times like this we all know how important a good solid hand rail is. In fact, for some of our older friends, steps can be treacherous even on normal days without a handrail.
If there are three or more steps a handrail is needed for safety. Like most safety issues, they do not seem important until we find ourselves in trouble.
I inspected a home for gentleman of some years who reinforced this for me. As I was explaining the safety concern of the steps to the front stoop due to the risers of the steps being of different heights, he said he was glad I called that out. He explained he had a uncle who lost his balance on a set of steps just like the ones we were looking at, 3 simple steps, with one step several inches higher than the others. His uncle tripped on the steps, lost his balance, fell backward, hit his head and died.
This gentleman also pointed out the 1 ½” offset where the driveway met the garage floor. He said he had a garage sale at one of his previous homes with such an offset. A man walked into the garage, tripped on the offset and fell. Getting up the man luckily seemed OK, but he was very upset and threatened to sue.
Steps are everywhere, why the big concern about riser irregularity? Our brains unconsciously register how far to pick up our feet after we have made the first step. If the succeeding step risers are different, we tend to trip on the top of the steps. When I was building new homes, if the building inspector found a set of steps with an irregular riser height of 3/8” or more the steps would fail the inspection, and we would be building a new set of stairs.
Considering most home accidents have to do with falling, it is important to help our clients minimize the chances of falling. For stairs it is:
-Improper riser heights
-Lack of or loose hand rails
-Rail spindle openings being excessively wide. (4” is now the norm)
At the bare minimum we want to make our clients aware of potential safety concerns, so they can be aware of them until they are able to properly address them.