The other night I was helping my grandmother down our back deck steps after a dinner at our house. We got to the top of the steps – I was supporting her left side with my arm – and she froze. It was dark outside and the steps were barely illuminated by the light coming from inside the house. There was no railing for her to support herself with, just the three dark steps and me.
“I can’t do this!” she exclaimed, the fear starkly apparent in her voice. I calmed her down and waited for my brother to finish helping our grandfather into the car before he joined the two of us at the top of the stairs. With the steady support of her two grandsons she slowly but safely made it down the steps without incident.
Mobility issues can be difficult to fully grasp for those who have little trouble getting around; I see my back steps and think ‘I can jump down those in a single leap’, but to my grandmother they comprise one of the toughest challenges she faces everyday. It is easy to get frustrated with someone who moves at a slower pace, but the key is to relax and maintain a patient demeanor so you don’t rush them into doing something dangerous.
I made a mistake by taking my grandmother down the back steps of my house rather than the front steps which are well lit and feature railings on both sides that she could have used for extra support and security. I won’t make that mistake again in the future.
Stairs and ramps are an unavoidable part of our everyday lives. We often use them as a means to get from point A to point B without thinking of them or the threat they might pose to our safety. Instead, the destination dominates our thoughts and in our increasingly fast-paced world we often feel the need to rush. This is a dangerous game to be playing.
According to the National Safety Council, there are over a million stair accidents that result in injury each year. Unfortunately 12,000 people lose their lives in these avoidable incidents every year.
How can we mitigate the slip, trip, and fall risk posed by stairs and ramps? By targeting each of the separate hazards individually.
Slips are obviously caused by slippery surfaces, which are in turn caused by a variety of unpredictable conditions. Liquid spills, inclement weather, and deteriorating surfaces all contribute to an increased risk of slipping. Make sure that your stair and ramp surfaces are equipped with effective nonslip material. Our HandiTreads are a great solution to this particular issue.
Trips are caused by a wide range of factors that can compound to create a particularly hazardous condition. Make sure that your steps are free of any debris that might cause someone to stumble. Most importantly, ensure that your steps are well lit and clearly defined in dark conditions. My grandmother was terrified of using our steps because she couldn’t see them very well and was unsure of her footing. There are a number of individual stair light fixtures offered on the internet that can quickly solve the problem in the event that installing overhead lighting is impossible (see Pegasus Lighting). If you are installing these stair lights indoors on carpeted steps, make sure you use LED lights to eliminate the risk of an electrical fire.
Falls are the result of slips and trips but can be halted by a sturdy railing. Install a railing wherever it is possible to do so. The handrail should be between 1 1/4 in. and 2 1/4 in. in diameter. If installing a railing is out of the question, direct those with impaired mobility to stairs that are equipped with a handrail and use the other steps with caution.
And if you are helping someone with limited mobility navigate a set of stairs, remember to remain calm and patient. The rush is not worth the risk.