Moving up in the World

Geoff Fernie, PhD, PEng, CCE
Centre for Studies in Health and Aging,
Sunnybrook Hospital and Women's College Hospital
North York, Ontario

It would obviously be safer and easier if we all lived on one level as we got older. This is not the reality and we are likely to have to use some form of assistive technology to make the change in elevation possible, less tiring or perhaps, simply less hazardous. For those who are no longer able to climb stairs, options include the installation of elevators and stair-climbing platforms. We will address these in a later article.

The focus of this article is on how to specify and install handrails that will reduce the risk of a falling accident as much as possible. Good sturdy rails will also provide significant assistance for many people in climbing the stairs.

The greatest dangers are of falling while descending the stairs. Catching the heel on the edge of a tread (under stepping), missing a step (overstepping) or simply losing balance may result in toppling forward down the stairs. Note that a tread is the surface of a step, whereas the vertical board is called the riser (i.e. each step consists of a tread and a riser). Studies in Dr.