Health & Wellness

Filling the Gaps in Stair Safety

By Rebecca Dixon |

A project is currently underway at Utah State University to study whether improving the visibility of the edge of the stairs reduces injuries from stumbles and falls. These changes can be as simple as putting a strip of tape in a contrasting color on the stairs.

Each year in the United States, approximately 3,000 people are injured from falling on stairs. People injured on stairs are 66% more likely to incur additional fall-related injuries in the future. A variety of factors influence these falls, such as deficits in balance, vision, hearing or muscular strength. However, the risk of falls can be reduced through simple changes to the environment.

A project is currently underway at Utah State University to study whether improving the visibility of the edge of the stairs reduces injuries from stumbles and falls. These changes can be as simple as putting a strip of tape in a contrasting color on the stairs.

The inspiration for the project came from the department of Kinesiology and Health Science’s neuromechanics laboratory, housed in the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services. This lab studies how our bodies’ sensory systems contribute to movement. In pursuit of preventing falls and lessening their impact, the lab is diligently coding stair observations of approximately 1,884 individuals per week who ascend and descend the monitored stairs at USU.

In order to better understand how preventative measures may be effective in real-world settings, the lab is diligently conducting observations of certain sets of stairs at USU, monitoring the ascent and descent of roughly 2,000 individuals per week.

Lab director Chris Dakin, post-doctoral fellow Sara Harper, and master’s student Alex Braeger developed this project to address a clear gap in the understanding of the real-world effectiveness of such interventions in reducing stumble and fall frequency.

“To date, most of the research examining stair interventions has been performed in controlled laboratories,” said Dakin, “and so it isn’t clear which factors influence stair and handrail use in real-world stumbles and falls.”

In spring 2020, undergraduate students Christopher Long and Samantha Corbridge were awarded an Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities grant to expand the project further. These researchers are working to discover how additional factors, such as proximity to the nearest handrail or the use of mobile phones, impact the risk and severity of falls as well as the ability to recover from a stumble.

The combined research helps fill in the gap between lab studies and real-world information and could lead to widespread use of simple and inexpensive aids to create safer stairs.

WRITER

Rebecca Dixon
Director, Public Relations and Marketing
Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services
435-797-1463
rebecca.dixon@usu.edu

CONTACT

Rebecca Dixon
Director, Public Relations and Marketing
Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services
435-797-1463
rebecca.dixon@usu.edu


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