For thousands of years, since rudimentary steps—created in stone or by tree roots—were first discovered in nature, stairs have fascinated designers.  For some recent examples of just how far this fascination has gone, see “Amazing Staircases” or do a Google search on this phrase.

What is more amazing is that the generally unspectacular stairways in our homes deserve a second look.  To make that look more productive, use the Checklist for Stairways and the “crouch and sight test”, both the result of decades of research and practical experience. 

Home stairways, especially, are among the most dangerous of consumer products.  In the last several years in the USA, the growth of stair-related injuries has apparently accelerated, according to national estimates of hospital emergency department-treated injuries from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, CPSC, National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, NEISS.  The graph below is based on “National Estimates” from CPSC/NEISS for the years 1974 through 2008.

                U.S. Emergency Department Visits for Stair-related Injuries, 1974-2008

Videos produced by Jake Pauls, in collaboration with Copycat Video Productions, are available for live streaming on the topic of stairways—and related safety issues—as presented and discussed at conferences and other meetings in 2012 through 2020.   Simply click here to access these videos.

While more investigation is required, it appears that a major reason for the recent “excess” injuries related to home stairs might be a systemic defect on many home stairways (as well as some in other settings) in the USA and Canada.  This defect is a non-uniformity of the nosing projection at the top of stair flights; due to the omission of a $10 nosing piece, at the landing level, at the time of stairway construction.  This makes the top tread below the landing effectively larger than all the steps below it.  Here is a home stairway with the systemic defect referred to as a “Top of Flight Flaw.”


This common defect greatly increases the risk of an “overstepping misstep” on the second or third step down the flight.  Such missteps can lead to a very serious fall down the stair flight, with resulting injuries.

This is why we should now give our stairways “a second look.”  Specifically we should perform the simple “crouch and sight” test.  Do this from the landing above the stair flight you wish to check.  Crouch down so you are able to see all the stair nosings (the leading edges) line up.  If the top, landing nosing does not line up with all the other step nosings, your stair likely has the systemic defect. The photo above shows the view one has in performing a “crouch and sight test” which is the first component of the “one minute stairway flight inspection.”

If your home stairway has this defect—which results from the non-uniformities of nosing projections and of what are called “tread depth” or “run” dimensions—and your home was recently constructed, call your local building inspection authorities and request that the stairway be re-inspected for building code compliance.  Both the non-uniform nosing projection and the non-uniform tread depth or run are serious building code violations, for example under widely used building and residential codes codes in the USA and Canada.

If there has been a fall and significant injury on the non-uniform stair flight, you might also want to confer with an attorney (experienced in dealing with stair-related injury cases), especially if the home was recently constructed. Such an attorney - and any forensic experts and inspectors s/he employs to do state-of-the-art stairway inspections - should be aware of, and knowledgeable on, basic stairway safety concepts and issues introduced, for example, in videos found on this website. Simply click here to access these videos. For more-detailed information, including access details for hundreds of technical publications on stairway safety, email Jake Pauls to request an emailed copy of a 28-page literature list on stairway use, safety and design.

                             Graphics and Text Copyright, Jake Pauls, 2020

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