Avoiding slips and falls on stairways is an aging in place imperative and one that we take very seriously.  Among the many hats we wear as aging in place designers and contractors, our fall prevention planning cap is a big one. As we age, stairs become a growing obstacle for many of us and a centerpiece of concern for safety experts.  But don’t despair. We have a stairway safety protocol that’s simple, inexpensive, and effective in minimizing the likelihood of mishaps. Don’t stop using your stairs….just do so safely.


HANDRAILS TIMES 2. Most homes come equipped with one handrail per stairway.  Want to be safe? We strongly urge you to consider rails on both sides of the stairway.  Install them at elbow height and make sure they’re firmly attached to the wall. (they should support your entire weight without pulling free). The rails should stretch slightly beyond the top and bottom of the stairs so that they’re available for grasping as you begin your climb or descent. And the thickness of the rail is also critical; an adult should be able to wrap their hands entirely around it…keep the circumference under 61/4 inches


GRIPPY TREADS/VISIBLE TREADS.  Smooth surfaces like wood, or tile are slips waiting to happen. But there’s an easy answer;  install treads made of rubber, or other grippy materials, or apply non-slip tape to each stair surface for secure footing.  Carpeting also works well, but make sure it fits snugly, without wrinkles or movement.  Low pile carpet treads are the best option. To enhance the visibility of each tread, put a stripe of contrasting color on the nosing of each tread. And don’t forget to check the overall condition of the stairs; fix any uneven steps, cracks, or protruding nails.


DITCH THE CLUTTER.  It’s common sense; get rid of loose rugs at top or bottom of stairs and remove all objects from the stairway…shoes, books and odd pieces of clothing have a way of ending up there. If furniture on the landings is an obstacle, find a better location. Keep the stairway decorations to a minimum.


LET THERE BE LIGHT.  Make sure your stairs are well lit with low glare overhead lighting that minimizes shadows. Place light switches at the top and bottom of the stairs. Add some nightlights in the hallways and landings leading to the stairway.  An essential rule of thumb:  stairs should never be less well-lit than the surrounding areas.


SOME EXTRA “STEPS”.   Here are some other personal measures to keep in mind.


  • Slow down:Take your time going up and down the stairs; hold on, and keep your eyes focused on each step.
  • Take off your reading glasses, and be careful if you wear bifocals or progressive lenses; make sure the lens is positioned correctly for clear focus.
  • Keep your shoes on.Navigating the stairs in bare feet or socks is asking for trouble.


We’re a “CAPS” certified Aging in Place Specialist. We think stair falls can be significantly reduced by using the above strategies. If you have any questions about safe stairs or anything else aging in place or accessibility-related, we’re more than happy to provide answers. Please give us a call at (419) 558-1300 or email us.  And if you have any comments or thoughts about this blog piece, we’d love to hear from you.