One Step at a Time

Today McLeod Governance goes walking but not Dear Reader along some green paths overlooking fields of gold.


Today we go to the location that is only second behind car accidents as the most common cause of death.

Today we go walking on stairs.

Our walk illustrates very nicely an issue that we often talk to organisations about – that the most common things can sometimes hid unseen and dangerous risks.

Equally the issue that it raises is that – sometimes – the manifestation of a risk can have nothing to do with you and everything to do with design.


In 2002 in Great Britain, 306,116 people were injured seriously enough in stair falls to require medical attention.

Falls on stairs rate ahead of drownings and burns and as we saw above below car accidents.

So why is it that stairs are so dangerous?

Everybody trips on stairs at one time or another.

It has been calculated (not sure by who or how) that you are likely to miss a step once in every 2,222 occasions you use stairs, suffer a minor accident once in every 63,000 uses, a painful accident once in every 734,000 and need hospital attention once every 3,616,667 uses.

84% of people who dies in stair falls at home are sixty-five or older.

Children very rarely die on stairs though households with young children have by far the highest rate of injuries partly because of the things children leave on stairs.

People in good shape fall more often than people in bad shape, largely because they do a lot more bounding and don’t descend as carefully and with as many rest stops as the tubby or infirm.

The best indicator of personal risk is whether you have fallen much before. About four persons in ten injured in a stair fall have been injured in a stair fall before.

People fall different ways in different countries. Someone in Japan, for instance, is far more likely to be hurt in a stair fall in an office, department store or railway station than is anyone in the United States. This is not because the Japanese are more reckless stair users, but simply because Americans don’t use stairs much in public environments.

When we fall on stairs, we tend to blame ourselves and generally attribute the fall to carelessness and inattentiveness. In fact, design substantially influences the likelihood of whether you will fall, and how hurt you will feel when you have stopped bouncing. Poor lighting, absence of handrails, confusing patterns on the treads, risers that are unusually high or low, treads that are unusually wide or narrow and landings that interrupt the rhythm of ascent or descent are the principal design faults that lead to accidents.

The two times to take particular care on stair cases are at the beginning and the end of a journey.

It is then that we seem to be most inclined to be distracted. As many as one-third of all stair accidents occur on the first or last step, and two-thirds occur on the first and last three steps. The most dangerous circumstance of all is having a single step in an unexpected place. Nearly as dangerous are stairs with four or fewer risers. They seem to inspire overconfidence.


Now if you will excuse me McLeod Governance have some stairs to carefully climb as we calibrate the likelihood that it will be the next step that is our 3,616,667 use !

And yes this post was based on one of McLeod Governance’s favourite recent books – At Home by Bill Bryson

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