Preventing Falls on Stairs

This archived article is from October 2004. Although every effort has been made to make sure the information presented is accurate, please note that it may contain information that is out-of-date.

For Canadians 65 years of age or older, falls account for more than half of all injuries, and are the leading cause of injuries that result in a fatality. The largest proportion of these falls occur at home, and in many cases, involve stairs.

To help seniors maintain their independence by staying safe, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and the Canada Safety Council are offering these tips to reduce the risk of falls on stairs:

  • Avoid visually distracting patterns that can make it difficult to distinguish one step from another. If the edges of the stairs can't be seen clearly, mark them by painting a permanent stripe on the edge in a contrasting colour.
  • Improve the lighting on steps and stairs. Consider installing low-intensity night lighting, as well as a light switch at both the bottom and top of the stairs.
  • For steps with short treads or a high rise, keep any coverings thin and tightly affixed to maximize the tread space. If you're renovating or building new stairs, try to allow for ample tread space and a gentle rise, and always make sure all the steps are of a uniform size and height.
  • For winding or curved stairs, be sure to provide a handrail on both sides, especially where the stairway includes combinations of rectangular and tapered steps.
  • If the stair treads are slippery or in poor condition, repair or replace the surfaces with a slip-resistant, rough finish, and make sure the tread coverings are fastened securely.
  • Never place any loose rugs on the steps, or at the top or bottom of the stairway.
  • Position handrails at about adult elbow height, and extend them the full length of the stairs without a break. Ensure the handrails have a tactile indicator that warns users when a stair is coming to an end, and make sure that they're easy to see, even in low light or at night.
  • Don't place any objects on the steps, and make sure that any objects on the landings don't obstruct or distract.
  • Lastly, always be cautious, deliberate and not rushed when taking the stairs. Hold on to the handrails, switch on stair lights, be extra cautious with winding or curved stairs, wear footwear that fits properly and has a non-slip sole, and - most importantly - always take your time, especially when using an unfamiliar stairway.

For a free copy of the "About Your House" fact sheet Preventing Falls on Stairs call CMHC at 1 800 668-2642 or download the PDF from CMHC's Web site.