Death, paralysis and injury – shocking stories in BBC phone-in support industry’s call for improved stair safety

9 February 2017

Shocking statistics and personal stories of injuries caused by falls and accidents on stairs drove home the need for greater stair safety in our homes, during a long and animated discussion on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show on 9 February 2017 as part of the inaugural Stair Safety Day organised by the British Woodworking Federation (BWF).

Hannah Mansell, BWF technical manager and manager of the BWF Stair Scheme (pictured with Jeremy Vine), spent more than 20 minutes being interviewed and providing advice to callers phoning in to the show, many of whom gave graphic details of their experiences of accidents on stairs:

  • Andy Richardson phoned in to talk about how he had become paralysed from the chest down with loss of all hand function nine years ago after falling down a flight of stairs.
  • Carmen Lucky, who lives in a listed cottage in Northamptonshire, called the show to say that her husband had fallen down the stairs cutting his arm on the cellar door severing a nerve. Hannah Mansell was able to offer advice on how best to deal with such stairs in listed properties where structural changes are often not possible.
  • Peter Allen said that he fell down the stairs carrying his four year old son causing him to faint due to the shock of the fall.
  • On Twitter, Mandy Bradbury tweeted a picture showing the back of her foot significantly hanging over the stair tread, despite having just size 4 feet. Poorly designed stairs like this can create significant hazards.

The BBC stair safety phone-in was listened to by an estimated 6 million people and resulted in a 700% increase in visits to the BWF Stair Scheme website on that day. Social media activity carrying the #StairSafetyDay hashtag achieved a further reach of more than half a million people.

Hannah Mansell said:

“It was an incredibly powerful and moving experience to hear so many people participating in the discussions. The terrible stories that we heard really communicated clearly why stair safety is so important. A single slip can result in life-changing injuries.

“But there are also easy ways to reduce these risks. A big part of safety is about behaviour, proper lighting, secure carpets and common sense. Good design of stairs and handrail systems and builders’ adherence to regulations also has an important part to play. That’s why we ran Stair Safety Day, in order to raise awareness and to get across some helpful advice.”

According to Government statistics, there were 787 deaths in England and Wales in 2015 caused by a fall on steps or stairs – that’s more than two people dying every day.

It is estimated that there is a fall on stairs every 90 seconds in the UK, and a further estimated 250,000 non-fatal accidents which are serious enough to merit a trip to A&E. It’s the most common area of the home for people to receive injuries, and according to RoSPA 58,000 children have accidents on stairs every year.

Just last month, a survey for the BWF Stair Scheme found that one third (33%) of us admit to having fallen up or down stairs in the last 12 months.

Although the elderly and young children are usually recognised as most at risk, falls on stairs are actually very common among young adults – over half of all 18-24 year olds (51%) said they had lost their footing compared to just a quarter of those aged 55 or over (25%).

Women are slightly more likely to admit to falling up or down stairs than men (38% compared to 28%). Those in the North East seem particularly at risk – the BWF poll showed that over 48% of respondents in that region had fallen in the last year, the highest percentage of all the regions – and people in Yorkshire and the Humber were safest (just 26% reported a fall).

The BWF Stair Scheme is promoting six top tips for improved stair safety:

  • Stay Alert: Don’t get distracted while using the stairs – best to check your phone only when you have completed this part of your journey.
  • Tread carefully: Ensure you have sufficient foothold on each tread, use the widest side of a winder step and make sure that any footwear is appropriate.
  • Avoid athletics: Don’t play, run or jump on the stairs, climb or slide on the balustrades or handrail – go at a sensible speed and never try to take more than one step at a time.
  • Identify and remove any trip hazards: Leaving or storing toys, shoes or other objects on staircases (or landings) is a common cause of accidents and can easily be avoided.
  • Remember to hold tight: Use the handrail and whenever possible keep your other hand free.
  • Stairgates do open! Even if you do fancy yourself as Team GB hurdler, don’t be tempted to step or leap over the stairgate – this can be a common cause of accidents for older children or adults.

A stair safety fact sheet is available to download on the BWF Stair Scheme website.

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