Safe stairway negotiation: Role of distractions and handrail use

J Safety Res. 2022 Sep:82:314-322. doi: 10.1016/j.jsr.2022.06.007. Epub 2022 Jun 22.


Introduction: This study sought to examine stairway safety by identifying associations between fall-related events on stairways, distractions, gait speed, drifting, as well as handrail use and proximity.

Method: Video recordings captured 11,137 observations of stair users in two public stairways and recorded distractions (e.g., looking at a mobile device, talking on a mobile device, using earbuds or headphones, holding a mobile device, or talking with a peer), gait speed (m/s), drifting (change of direction), as well as handrail use and proximity to a handrail.

Results: In our sample, consisting of primarily young adults (observed 18-40 years old), we found that when a distraction was present, gait speed was reduced (p <.001), drifting increased (p <.001), and handrail use negatively impacted (p <.001) compared to stair users who were not distracted.

Conclusions: These results indicate that distractions, such as mobile devices, used during stair negotiation can reduce handrail use and increase behaviors associated with fall-related events.

Practical applications: Mobile device use during stairway negotiation increases the likelihood of distraction-induced events. Stair users should be encouraged to limit or avoid mobile device use in public stairway environments. Mobile manufacturers and mobile app developers could aim to develop strategies or mobile app alerts to reduce the impact of distractions (e.g., mobile device use) during stair negotiation to lessen the health and financial burden associated with fall-related events on stairways.

Keywords: Drifting; Falls; Gait speed; Mobile device; Stairs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Negotiating*
  • Young Adult