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Design considerations

Steps, stairs, ramps, and flooring design and selection can impact on safety. This page has information and advice on design considerations and how to reduce risk and stay safe.

Assess the risk

The areas that have the highest injury rates from slips, trips and falls, and those that require the most careful assessment are:

  • entrances from outside and foyer areas
  • wet areas and walking surfaces with high levels of contaminants
  • steps, stairs and ramps
  • thresholds between areas
  • areas used by people who are at highest risk of slips, trips and falls given their age, health, mobility restrictions etc.

Some of the key design features to assess in these high risk areas are provided below:

Poorly designed steps and stairs

  • stair riser (height) and stair going (depth of tread) measurements not consistent or sufficient
  • step nosing (leading edge or front of step) hard to see, rounded, damaged or slippery
  • insufficient or poor lighting
  • lack of handrails.

Poorly designed ramps

  • ramps that are too steep
  • ramps with no handrails
  • lighting that is insufficient to see edges clearly
  • no edging or toe boards.

Poor flooring/ground surface selection

  • floor surfaces that lack slip resistance, especially if wet.

Decide on control measures

The design features that have been found to reduce slips, trips and falls are listed below, and detailed guidance is provided in the relevant Australian Standards (e.g. AS 1657 & 1428).

Well-designed steps and stairs

  • steps are consistent size and height for secure use
  • step nosings (leading edge or front of steps) are clear to see and non-slip
  • rails and balustrades are a suitable design and height
  • rails are continuous, with sufficient hand clearance
  • rails continue past the steps, parallel to the ground or floor surface.

Well-designed ramps

  • have a gentle slope
  • clearly marked start and finish
  • fitted with handrail
  • handrails are continuous with sufficient hand clearance
  • fitted with toe board or kickboard where required
  • suited to the users (e.g. walking unaided, using a wheelchair etc.).

Where ramps may be used by people with mobility restrictions, there is more specific guidance regarding design features including:

  • landings at the top and bottom
  • unobstructed widths
  • no steeper than 1 in 8 for short ramps (up to 1520mm)
  • no steeper than 1 in 14 for longer ramps
  • fitted with toe board or edging to provide a barrier to wheeled devices.

Well-designed and selected flooring

When selecting flooring and ground surfaces, ensure the most appropriate surface is installed, with particular attention to wet areas and those areas likely to be exposed to contaminants. Assistance can be obtained from:

  • flooring suppliers – request comparative data on the slip resistant properties of the flooring options suited to the work tasks, with consideration of wear characteristics; and
  • guidance from Standards Australia, such as the 'Guide to the specification and testing of slip resistance of pedestrian surfaces'
  • use the table in Flooring types – characteristics & applications to compare characteristics of common types of flooring.

For example, when selecting flooring products, the above guide advises that in addition to slip resistance, people who specify or select flooring should consider these product characteristics:

  • trip avoidance
  • abrasion resistance
  • ability to be cleaned and maintained
  • permeability
  • susceptibility to pooling water
  • structural integrity of the material.

Other important design features

Studies have identified that some additional and often simple design changes will further lower slips, trips and falls risk and these include:

  • recessing or rebating structural trip hazards such as door frames on sliding doors, shower hobs, and shower door frames
  • designing work flows to be logical and streamlined, as this minimises exposure to potential slips, trips and falls hazards
  • providing workstation space that is suited to the typical tasks
  • providing storage for all items for workers and others at the workplace (e.g. patients, customers, etc.) to keep items off the floor.