Stair Safety

Stairs in the home can be one of the most dangerous places for anyone, in particular, for the elderly, handicapped and young children. They can create the opportunity not only for accidents, but for potential liability. For this reason, stair safety should be a priority with any homeowner, whether you have at risk members of your home, or not. The two most basic parts to stair safety include keeping children who are too young to navigate stairs from reaching the staircase, and making the staircase as safe as possible for those who do travel up and down them.

Safety Gates

There are two basic mechanisms to install safety gates: those that work by pressure and those that are hardware mounted to a wall or door frame. Pressure gates are not safe for the top or bottom of stairways, and are not recommended for stair safety. Mounted gates, which swing open and closed or retract into a holder, and are secured by a variety of mechanisms, are the kind of gate you should use to keep children off of staircases.

It is absolutely imperative that any adult and older child in the house can open the safety gate easily in case an emergency arises. In case of a fire or other emergency that necessitates a quick evacuation, you don't want a bottleneck caused by a difficult gate at the top of the stairs. At the same time, it is necessary that the child who is being guarded can neither open the gate nor climb over it. Check the area carefully for anything that the child could use as a step up to get a purchase on the gate and go up and over. A clever child can turn a stuffed animal into a stepping stool.

In the past, accordion style gates were used, but they are no longer recommended or manufactured: children may get pinched or otherwise caught in them. Gates with slats should follow the same standard as for cribs, i.e., no more than 2 3/8” (6.03 cm) between slats.

Voluntary standards for safety gates are set by the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) and administered by the Juvenile Products Manufacturer’s Association (JPMA). Look for the JPMA approval on any safety gate you consider purchasing.

Making the Stairs Safe—A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

doctor Stair safety involves several other factors:

  • Lighting: Make sure the stairway is well lit. A light switch at both the top and the bottom of the stairs ensures that someone about to use the stairs in either direction can make sure they’re lit. Especially if there are young children in the house and movement in the house at night, a night light at both ends of the staircase can also increase stair safety.
  • Clear the space: Don’t let clutter accumulate on the stairs; while it can be convenient to place items that need to travel to another floor on the stairs, this should never be done in such a way that someone might trip.
  • No wax: Waxed floors look lovely, but they’re slippery—don’t ever wax the stairs. If they’re slippery in any case, try nonskid tape or stair treads.
  • Install two handrails: A handrail on either side of the stairs gives two people who are passing each other on the stairs something to hold onto.
  • Check the railings on landings: Railings in the area overlooking the staircase should have the same limit of 2 3/8” between spindles that you find for cribs. If the gap is wider, or if you have concerns about dropped toys or other items, you can install shatterproof clear plastic.
  • Tack down carpets: Stair carpeting should be well secured to avoid slips or a tripping hazard.
  • Avoid throw rugs: Whether at the top or the bottom of the stairs, avoid throw rugs that might slip.

Written by Mary Elizabeth

Related Home Institute Articles

  • Safety Gates
  • Window Safety
  • Emergency Information
  • Childproofing the Outside
  • Crib Safety
  • Childproofing the Living Room
  • Safety Gate Buying Guide
  • Baby Walkers