The World Health Organization says falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injuries worldwide after road traffic crashes. Here are some easy ways to make your stairs safe for everyone in the family.
Scary but true: there were more than 50,000 emergency visits for injuries from falls on stairs in Ontario in 2015, according to Ontario Injury Compass, which analyses and discusses injury issues in the province.
“In B.C., stairs were involved in approximately 8.2 per cent of all hospitalizations for fall-related injuries, with 68 per cent of these falls on stairs happening in the home,” says a 2013/14 Ministry of Health Report.
And it gets worse: a 2011-2015 B.C. Vital Statistics report says, “On average, 38 people are killed every year in B.C. by falling on stairs.”
Who’s at risk? The young and the old are most prone to stair-related injuries, although everyone must be vigilant. Ontario Injury Compass says Ontarians 75 and older had the highest rate of emergency visits for stair fall-related injuries. The report also says females had a higher number of emergency department visits in all age categories, except for children younger than 10.
Whether it’s a long flight of stairs or just a step or two, falls happen.
There are three main contributing factors to why people fall on or from stairs. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) says they are environmental factors such as poor design, construction and maintenance; health factors, for example loss of balance, weakness or vision problems; and behavioural factors including wearing unsuitable footwear or carrying something that obstructs vision when using the stairs.
How do you prevent stair-related falls?
– Experts recommend removing reading glasses when travelling up or down stairs. They also recommend caution when wearing bifocals or progressive eyeglasses.
– Install handrails. CMHC says occupational therapists recommend handrails be installed on all staircases, even if they have three steps or less. Have at least one handrail. Two is even better. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says, “You should be able to run your hand smoothly along the entire length without having to adjust your grip.”
– Use handrails: Neglecting to use your handrails defeats the purpose of having them. Teach children to navigate stairs using the handrail so they can learn good habits early.
– Proper lighting is crucial, especially for people with vision problems. Having a light switch at the top and bottom means stairs can be well lit whether a user is travelling up or down.
– Make sure the edges of the steps are visible. CMHC recommends painting a contrasting colour on the edges of wooden or concrete steps, or on the top and bottom steps. Special strips that can enhance the visibility of each step are also recommended.
– Wearing proper footwear helps reduce the chance of falling on the stairs. Heels may get caught on the edge of a step, says the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. “Such mishaps are a routine cause of twisted ankles, sprained knees or more serious injuries incurred by a total fall.” Slippers that are loose or slip-on footwear is also not recommended.
– Pay attention when you’re using the stairs. This is especially important when you’re not familiar with the stairs or the staircase has uneven or narrower steps, such as those on a circular staircase.
– Rubber, metal or slip-resistant paint can help reduce the slipping risk.
– Make sure your stairs are in good repair and ensure stair treads are non-slip and are properly fastened.
– Consult an occupational therapist for advice about changes that can be made to the home to reduce the risk of falling on stairs, CMHC says. “Simple modifications can be made to increase the safety of stairs, for example, adding a second handrail (or) installing visual contrast strips at the edge of stairs for easier visual detection.”
– Use baby safety gates at the top and bottom to keep very young children off of the stairs.
– Ensure stairs are kept clear of clutter and other tripping hazards.
– Do not carry bulky objects that block your vision.
– If you’re building or renovating a home, ensure stairs are built to code, with uniform steps. Handrails should be on both sides and continue one foot past the top and the bottom of the staircase, according to Fall Prevention Programming, a book by V. Scott.
– If stairs are too much of a challenge, install a stair lift or elevator.
– The majority of stairway falls result from a loss of balance, so be aware and take precautions.
– Experts also suggest removing loose carpets or throw rugs from the stairway landing.
The World Health Organization says falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injuries worldwide after road traffic crashes.
“Prevention starts by keeping in mind that there are risks in using stairs. Good planning and simple strategies can help prevent falls and injuries,” says CMHC.