Making stairs at least 250mm deep, as per BS 5395-1, instead of the current minimum of 225mm, is reckoned to reduce falls by 60%.
The standard also requires the provision of handrails, mandating two, one of which must always be within reach.
BS 5395-1 has been in place as an industry-standard since 2010, and is part of the Building Regulations introduced by the coalition government. However, the 2010 legislation only put the standard in place as a recommendation, not as a legal requirement, and so it is routinely ignored.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has been campaigning to make stairs safer and have the standard made mandatory. It described the government consultation as a major breakthrough.
The government has promised to complete the review “as expeditiously as possible, and certainly within the year”.
RoSPA has called falls on the stairs “a hidden killer” which claims the lives of more than 700 people a year in England, and hospitalises 43,000 more.
RoSPA chief executive Errol Taylor said: “We have been persistent and focused in the pursuit of our aim to have every new home built with stairs meeting the British Standard. And we have pursued all avenues to make this a reality. It is a credit to our resolve, and the resolve of our supporters, that so many politicians and peers have backed us by making impassioned speeches in both houses.
“However, even though we have reached this momentous position, we are not being complacent. Our work will continue until the consultation is complete, and the standard is a legal requirement fully reflected in the Building Regulations. And in this regard, I would like to commend our partners who have stood with us, and provided their backing all the way. This is as much an achievement for these enlightened house builders as it is for RoSPA – ultimately it is our incredibly important coalitions with the industry that have placed us in this position. Together these actions will save many, many lives and unnecessary injuries for thousands of people.”
RoSPA, with its partners from the building industry, has argued that changes to incorporate the British Standard into building regulations are simple to deliver and cost-effective if set in at the design stage of new homes. The law will only apply to new-build properties and therefore would not require retrofitting in existing houses. RoSPA has engaged with trade associations and housing groups throughout, including the Home Builders Federation (HBF), Local Government Association (LGA), National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and the National Home Builders Council (NHBC).
Berkeley Group divisional managing director Karl Whiteman said: “We are proud as home builders to have backed this move. This will not mean any stairs have to be retrofitted into existing homes, just incorporated in the design of new builds. As such there is no meaningful cost difference to developers, as it's all about the design.”
Orbit Homes director Helen Moore said: “Surely, it is our moral imperative to ensure the houses we design and build are safe for the people who call them home.”