Falling at Home Due to Unsafe Stairs and Ramps

Although we spend a great deal of time in our homes without injury, accident statistics indicate that the home can in fact be a dangerous place to be. Each year, millions of people are injured in accidents in somebody's home, and tens of thousands of people die in home accidents.

The majority of accidents that result in death or a disabling injury are from falling, and many of the falls involve stairways, ramps, porches and landings.

Building codes include specific dimensional requirements for stairways, porches, landings and ramps. Any time a person is injured as the result of a fall related to stairs, ramps, or elevated surfaces or platforms, including porches and balconies, it is important to evaluate the construction to determine if problems or defects resulting from design, construction or maintenance played a role in the fall.

The failure to follow building code requirements, professional building practices, or to properly maintain the premises can result in hazardous and dangerous conditions that may result in liability.

Unsafe Stairs

A leading cause of falling at home is a problem with a stairway. An improperly constructed stairway, landing, or inappropriate door placement at the top of the stairs can cause the stairway to be unsafe.

  • Steps should be uniform in height and depth, and treads should be securely attached.
  • Stairs should meet the height and depth requirements set forth in the building code.
  • Special requirements apply when a stairway bends or curves, and for spiral staircases.
  • A stairway should also have safe and proper illumination and wall switch placement.
  • Doorways to stairways must not swing over the stairs.

Care must also be taken to ensure appropriate head clearance, so that people going up and down a stairway will not need to duck to avoid striking their head on the roof or an object.

Unsafe Handrails

Within a home, most stairways must have at least one handrail. Depending upon the applicable building code, the requirement for a handrail will apply when a stairway has more than three or four steps.

A handrail in a home or residential building should be positioned between thirty and thirty-eight inches above the leading edge of a stair tread. The handrail must also meet grip size requirements.

Unsafe Guardrails

Whenever a home has a balcony, porch, landing or ramp, or there is an open side to a stairway that is more than thirty inches above a finished ground level or floor below, a continuous guardrail is required. Breaks in a guardrail may occur only at a newel or turn.

  • Depending upon the applicable building code, when a guardrail is required, the guardrail must be at least thirty-six inches to forty-two inches inĀ  height.
  • A guardrail must include intermediate rails to prevent people from falling under the rail.
  • Intermediate rails must be no more than six inches apart.
  • The guardrail must incorporate a bottom rail or curb that is positioned to prevent the passage of a two-inch sphere.

Unsafe Ramps

When a home has a ramp, maximum slope requirements apply to the ramp, with the maximum rise being 1 in 8 (a ratio, one inch in height for every eight inches in length). If the slope of a ramp is between 1 in 8 and 1 in 12, handrails are required.

A ramp must have a landing that is at least three feet wide and three feet deep at both the top and the bottom of the ramp.

Copyright © 2017 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on May 7, 2018.