Stairway safety is an essential part of any business’s accident prevention plan that can help reduce slips and falls in public buildings and workplaces. Parking garages, schools, municipal buildings, and industrial facilities are subject to codes that dictate stairway safety requirements, but many property owners and managers can do more with visual cues to protect employees, visitors, and customers.

Common Stairway Hazards and Injuries

Stairways may have physical hazards while slip and trip risks may be present due to a person miscalculating steps or multitasking while ascending or descending. Because stairs are commonplace in public facilities and workplaces, stairwell safety may not be given enough thought. Some areas of concern include:

  • Loose, missing, or insufficient handrails
  • Damaged treads
  • Loose or broken stair edges
  • Wet surfaces
  • Debris on stairs or landings
  • Incorrect vertical rise or stair height

Accidents that result from improper stairwell safety can be devastating for the injured party—and the building owner due to fines and a damaged reputation. More than one million injuries, from sprains and bruises to serious fractures and head trauma, result from stairway falls each year.

Industrial Safety Standards for Stairs

When adding or replacing any stairs on public property or in a working environment, the building owner or facility manager must consider code compliance and industrial safety standards. The type of property usually dictates which regulations apply. OSHA regulates stairway safety requirements for workplaces, like factories or warehouses, while building codes set the standard for stairs used by the public, such as those linking a parking garage to a skyway or business. Though differences exist between industrial and commercial stairwell safety standards, all codes dictate requirements for proper stair sizes, shapes, and features.

What Is the OSHA Standard for Industrial Stairs?

OSHA regulations for standard stairs provide structural requirements and physical attributes of steps for work environments. All stairways (standard, spiral, and alternating tread-type) must adhere to these construction requirements:

  • Handrails, stair rail systems, and guardrails must be provided according to fall protection regulations.
  • Vertical clearances between a stair tread and an overhead obstruction must be at least 6 feet, 8 inches. 
  • Landings and platforms are at least the width of the stairs and at least 30 inches deep.
  • Platforms must be provided where doors or gates open and the door swing should not reduce the platform’s usable depth to less than 22 inches.
  • Each stair must support five times the anticipated load, and never less than 1,000 pounds.
  • Alternative stair styles (spiral and alternating tread-type) may only be used when standard stairs are not feasible.
  • Stair risers must have uniform riser heights and tread depths between landings and match the height, depth, and angles defined by OSHA for the stair type.

A main takeaway for industrial stairwell safety standards and commercial stairways is uniformity; when all steps are compliant and the depth and treads are standardized, the stairs are easier and safer for everyone to use. 

Floor Marking Strategies for Hazard Prevention in Stairways

The risks of slips, trips, and falls are present whether a business has a single step at an entrance or several flights of stairs. Following stairwell safety codes is necessary for businesses to remain compliant and increasing visual cues beyond what’s required can take slip and fall prevention even further.

How Can You Prevent Hazards Related to Stairways?

Adhering to stairway safety best practices including regularly inspecting steps for debris or damaged stair treads, checking handrails, and alerting people of hazardous conditions can help prevent injuries related to stairway hazards.

Training and reminding employees to take precautions when traveling on stairways by using the handrail, watching for environmental risks, such as ice, snow, or water, and reporting any debris or dangerous conditions can prevent slips, trips, and falls in industrial facilities. It isn’t realistic for businesses to train visitors on stairway accident reduction methods or assume all employees retain safety training. Instead, facility owners can install stairway signs and tape to improve the visibility of risks in public and private stairwells.

Floor Markings for Stair Treads

A stair tread shows elevation changes between steps and helps guide users’ foot placement, and when this nosing is not marked, navigating may be difficult and unsafe. Easy-to-spot floor tape can highlight tread edges to make the stairs easier to detect. Stair tread markings should be implemented in a consistent color scheme using contrasting colors. Facility managers should avoid using abstract patterns as these can affect pedestrians’ depth perception.

Visual Cues for Stair Landings and Platforms

Landings are the communication hubs in stairwells, offering information for the current floor, hazard notices, and safety reminders. Markings on stair landings and platforms can be a different color than stair treads to make it obvious the stairway is interrupted. 

  • Custom arrow-shaped floor signs can identify what is on the next or previous levels (i.e. mezzanine seating, business names, or parking garage locations).
  • Floor striping alerts employees to keep landings unobstructed.
  • Number or letter floor signs can label the landing for the current floor level.
  • Door swing signs remind stair users to be cautious when approaching the doorway to avoid collisions or accidents. 

Non-Slip Stairway Markers

Keeping stairs dry in high-traffic areas, such as parking garages, train stations, or factories with wet workstations can be difficult. Steps and stairwells exposed to moisture or the elements can benefit from non-slip grit tape along the nose. The tape provides extra traction to help prevent pedestrians’ shoes from slipping off the edge of the step. Grip tape also provides a tactile signal to alert people who may be distracted or unaware of where stairs or ramps begin.

Markings for Stairwells With Low-Light

Low visibility in stairwells can lead to minor to serious or fatal injuries from missteps or falls. When it is not feasible to add light fixtures, marking tape designed for visibility in low-light locations can help make the stairwell easier to navigate. Reflective and glow-in-the-dark floor marking tapes are two solutions to improve the visibility of tread edges, handrails, and landings; these visual cues are also helpful during emergency evacuations and power outages.

Caution Signs for Stairwells

Displaying safety and caution floor signs provides people with timely reminders when entering stairwells and while using the stairs. In industrial and commercial locations, visual cues can increase everyone’s awareness of surface conditions to encourage them to use the handrails and step carefully. Other examples of using caution floor signs near steps and stairs include:

  • Marking workstations that feature platforms and steps with signs reminding employees of the elevation change to help reduce accidental slips and falls. 
  • Listing the ceiling height or “low clearance” to encourage extra caution when navigating stairs. 
  • Labeling doorways with the door swing direction to gain attention and avoid collisions.
  • Using Do Not Block signage to stop employees from storing items on stairwell landings, keeping critical passageways and doorways accessible.
  • Placing notices for employees to wear high-traction footwear or other required safety equipment in areas known to be slippery.

Stairwell Markings for Accessibility

Proper stairwell and edge markings can help improve visibility and accessibility of stairs at schools, malls, workplaces, and commercial buildings. Tips to increase the safety accessibility of stairwells  include:

  • Focus on the contrast of the stair tread markings, rather than specific colors because the light and dark markings help differentiate each stair and improve depth perception. 
  • Use floor striping on platforms to make the transition from steps to landings clear.
  • Mark commercial buildings with stairway signs and floor numbers to help anyone from becoming lost or missing their destination. 
  • Use wall plaques featuring ADA-compliant braille and raised lettering to help visitors identify doors that lead to stairwell entrances. 
  • Apply grit tape before stairs and ramps to alert people to the upcoming grade change.
  • Add handrail indicators or tactile tape along the handrail to indicate the start and end of the stairway.

With the right facility safety tools and visuals, your slip and fall prevention and stairway maintenance efforts are even more effective. Managers of offices, warehouses, malls, and municipal buildings looking for methods for stairway accident reduction should consider our concise floor signs. These visual cues are quickly understood by new visitors and long-time employees, providing safety reminders at a glance. For more tips to prevent trips and falls in your facility, visit our Resource Center.