Watch your steps: Why you are likely to die from staircase fall

A woman walks up the stairs. [Getty Images]


For most people, using the stairs is a normal activity.  However, for Ainabkoi MP William Chepkut, stairs bring back memories of something he’d rather forget; memories of an accident he suffered last July. 

“I missed a step at a hotel and rolled down several metres to the ground; I fainted and was rushed to Nairobi Hospital,” he said during an interview with The Standard in November 2022. He had to undergo knee surgery.

According to Dr Mark Lutomia, an orthopaedic surgeon in Nakuru City, people have a low-risk perception when it comes to using stairs.

Unbeknownst to them, staircases come with a lot of risks which demand one to be very careful.

He identifies the knees as the most affected body part from stair accidents.

“When you are taking a stair, all your weight passes through the knee. If you are doing this quickly, a lot of force will be exerted. For example, if you are 80kg, multiply this by eight or ten. What you get is the amount of force exerted on your knee cap and all the way to the ankle,” says the chair of the surgery department at Egerton University.

The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks traffic accidents as the most common cause of injury and death. The second most common cause is, however, very surprisingly, injuries related to falling.

Injuries on stairways appear to represent a high proportion of these fall-related injuries, resulting in unintentional injuries, disabilities and fatalities.

Mr Ruben Koech, a physiotherapist and a lecturer at the Kenya Medical Training Institute (KMTC) in Nakuru has treated many patients suffering from stair-related injuries.

The injuries vary because accidents occur differently.  “It depends on the mechanism of the fall, where and how you land. Accidents occur through slips, missing a step, taking the wrong step or landing on a surprise step,” he said, adding, “A complete fall is more serious than an incomplete fall. The injuries affect the joints, tendons, muscles and bone shaft with the results being sprains, contusions and fractures. In severe cases, stairwell accidents can cause organ damage and bone lacerations.” 

Many accidents occur while descending stairs and steps, with slips being the most common form. While people can be cautious when ascending or descending stairwells, most buildings don’t apply the required safety standards and the right stairwell dimensions during construction.

An audit carried out in 2018 by the National Building Inspectorate covering 14,895 buildings revealed that 723 were very dangerous, 10,791 unsafe, 1217 fair and 2,194 are safe.

Additionally, the Local Government Building by-laws of 1968, section 134 (3) which regulates building and construction designs provides the minimum and maximum dimensions of stairs in homes, domestic buildings, warehouses, public buildings as well as fire escape staircases.

The laws also state that no flight of stairs shall exceed sixteen steps and in no case should there be more than two successive flights without a turn.

Hillary Munyasa, an architect in Nairobi, says that in addition to these dimensions, stairwells should use the right material, and headroom and they should be well lit. He recommends Terrazzo.

The rise in the urban population has led to increased demand for housing.

Mr Moses Kimani, a civil and structural engineer notes the rush to meet this demand has resulted in substandard buildings which don’t meet the required construction standards.

“When designing stairs, ample space is very important. However, developers approach us with difficult designs in a bid to utilize space. The standard dimension is usually a rising of 150mm, a tread of 300mm, headroom of 6 feet with a width of at least one metre. But a developer will insist on a rising of 250mm to save space. This results in a very steep staircase with limited headroom,” said Mr Kimani.