This practice-oriented paper is partly based on two unpublished, intensive half-day presentations described in this introduction. These presentations, in 2004, were commissioned by Utah building officials and prepared plus presented by Jake Pauls. As an in-depth technical presentation intended to introduce building inspectors to ergonomic considerations in stairway usability and safety, a brief reprise of the Utah presentation should be of interest to ergonomists and safety professionals involved in forensics or concerned generally with implementing measures for stairway usability and safety, especially in methods for inspecting and generally assessing the quality of stairways. Both quick, preliminary assessments and very detailed, intensive field tests were addressed for the Utah officials.

Regarding this paper's scope, it does not focus on occupational settings that are of prime, if not sole, interest to many safety professionals attending the ASSE Professional Development Conference. The paper focuses on stairway problems where they are most serious-in homes and public facilities. For the latter, the paper also includes an update on stairway evacuation issues.

Selected elements from the Utah presentation handouts are reproduced in this introduction section because of their general value to other safety professionals desiring to improve their knowledge of stairway usability and safety problems plus their solution or mitigation.


Goals for the original presentations and participant discussion were set out as follows.

At the end of the session, you will have gained:

  • A clear appreciation of how big the problem of stairway safety and usability is relative to other problems addressed in building codes.

  • A detailed understanding of three key sets of environmental factors contributing to reasonably safe, usable stairways.

  • Rationale to prioritize inspection goals in relation to stairways.

  • Knowledge of techniques for stairway inspection relevant to assessing safety and usability.

  • Awareness of current and potential impacts of litigation related to stairways.

  • An improved basis for meaningful participation in model code development, adoption and enforcement activities nationally and locally.

  • Greater enthusiasm for building safety activities that significantly impact public health generally and the wellbeing of people in your community.


An informal but wide-ranging pre-test was done before the formal presentation. (Time did not permit doing a post-test.) To illustrate technical topics addressed, several of the pre-test's 24 multiple-choice and two open-ended questions are reproduced here for a more general technical audience.

D. For stair-related injuries in the USA, approximately how much greater than the annual (1995) construction costs of new stairs was the annual (1995) total societal or comprehensive cost-the sum of medical care costs, lost productivity and quality of life ("pain and suffering") losses? (Mark one box, representing your best guess.)

  • Actually, the stair-related injury costs were not greater than the cost of stair construction

  • Actually, the injury and construction costs were approximately similar

  • Two times greater

  • Five times greater

  • Ten times greater

  • Fifteen times greater

  • Twenty times greater

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