Why housekeeping is vital to stair safety

Tuesday, November 20, 2018
By Mike Watt

One of the big issues when it comes to stair safety is preventing a slip and fall accident. While many slips and falls on stairways occur because there is an unseen object or possibly a cord on the stair, many times these accidents happen because of the build-up of moisture on the stairs or because they have not been cleaned and finished with a slip-resistant finish.

Mike Watt is director, training and new product development at Avmor, a leading Canadian manufacturer of professional cleaning solutions, breaks down how housekeeping can promote stair safety.

First, building managers should be aware of the fact that many slip and fall accidents occur on stairs as a result of one of the following:

The slippery step
When steps of a stairway are slippery, they can cause the walker to lose their grip.  This is why steps should be inspected regularly, as discussed earlier.

The surprise step
 A surprise step is when there is an unexpected extra step or possibly a missing step.  To prevent surprises, post warning signs if, for instance, there is an unexpected/missing step at the end of a flight of stairs.

The short step
Let’s say a man is walking down a flight of stairs wearing shoes that are 10 inches long. Every step on the stairway is 11 inches.  But all of a sudden, he steps onto a stair that is only 7 inches. This can cause the man’s foot to slip forward, potentially causing a slip and fall accident. (Note: When it comes to stair dimension, the general rule in many parts of North America is 7-11.  The step has a seven-inch rise and the actual stair is 11 inches long)

The irregular step
Similar to the short step, an irregular step is one that is longer or shorter/wider or narrower than the other steps in a flight. We most often find this situation in older buildings.

Stairs can also become dangerous as a result of what is referred to as “commission” and “omission.” Commission applies to the poor construction of the staircase, uneven stairs, no handrail, etc. And omission relates to lack of care. In wet weather, for instance, stairs should be checked regularly for moisture build-up and cleaned as necessary.  Further, another form of omission that some building administrators may not realize, involves how the floors are finished.  Facility managers want the floors clean and many want the stairs to shine. But they should also have a finish applied that is slip-resistant and durable. This type of floor finish provides added traction, reducing the possibility of a slip and fall accident for the long-term.  Further, it helps protect the floor.

What cleaning techniques help prevent slip and fall accidents on stairs?

  • Stairs should not be swept, if at all possible. Sweeping causes dust to become airborne.  When this happens, the dust spreads to other stairs, even those just cleaned.  A more effective – and healthier – technique is to vacuum them.  A backpack vacuum will work perfectly.  Always vacuum stairs by walking up, do not vacuum walking down.  Further, make sure and vacuum in the corners and crevices of each stair.
  • Stairs must be damp mopped. Select a high quality, all-purpose cleaning agent to clean the floor. Dilute as per manufacturer’s instructions.  Change the mop head and the solution every one to three floors based on soil load.  If you wait until the mop or mop water turns dark, it’s too late. But here is a problem that can materialize.  The cleaning worker may continue mopping the stairs long after the mophead has soiled.  When this happens, they may be spreading as many soils on the floor as they are removing.
  • Make sure a fresh coat of slip-resistant floor finish has been applied to the floor.  Select a floor finish that offers superior detergent resistance – because these stairs will be mopped frequently – and a solid, hard coating.  Also, at least one Canadian manufacturer of floor care products makes green certified floor finishes.  These products have low VOCs; some are formaldehyde-free and have no odour and no metals that can harm the user or the environment.
  • Matting should be placed on stair landings, before staircases, and after staircases.  The goal here is to keep grit, dirt, and moisture from collecting on shoe bottoms and then spreading to other floor areas.  Grit, dirt, and moisture can make stairs slippery, inviting a slip and fall accident to happen.

All of the steps discussed here should be amplified in the winter months.

What other techniques help prevent slip and fall accidents on stairs?

In a busy facility, a “stair patrol” program should be created.  This means that stairs are inspected on a regular basis to make sure they are clean, safe, dry, do not need repairs, and that the floor finish is holding up well. When someone experiences an injury as a result of walking up or down stairs, one of the things courts will look for, should this be a serious injury, is if building management should have known there was an issue that could cause an accident. A stair patrol program can help catch these problems before an accident occurs.

Mike Watt is director, training and new product development at Avmor, a leading Canadian manufacturer of professional cleaning solutions. He can be reached at [email protected]

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