Watch your Step

How often do you see or hear the phrase “watch your step”? It is everywhere: Airports, stadiums, gas stations, swimming pools and other public areas frequently remind pedestrians to watch their step to avoid falls. We’re so used to the phrase that many of us tune it out.

However, have you ever noticed where the “watch your step” reminders tend to be located? They are usually near curbs, ramps and stairs. What these areas all have in common is a change in surface elevation. “Watch your step” warnings are located in these areas because the probability of trips and falls increases substantially when the elevation of a walking surface changes. A stairway is a series of small elevation changes that add up to a significant distance, making them much more hazardous than a curb or ramp. While we don’t give stairs much thought, they do have the potential to cause severe injuries.


Use stairs safely

The key to staying safe on stairways is to maintain your balance. You can improve your balance on stairs by following these tips:


  • Pay attention to what you are doing. That means looking at your surroundings, rather than your phone, when you are walking. Multi-tasking may seem efficient, but the increased risk of an injury associated with “texting while walking” outweighs the benefits.


  • Use a handrail, the stairway’s built-in safety feature. Holding a handrail allows you to maintain another point of contact with the stairway, giving you a better chance of catching yourself if you misstep.


  • Walk smart. Whether you are going up or down the stairs, take them one at a time. Avoid carrying heavy objects, which can throw off your balance. Also avoid carrying objects that will block your view of the staircase or require the use of both hands.


Clean up

Poor housekeeping is a contributing factor in many stairway injuries. Stairs may look like shelves, but they are not intended to be used for storage. Any item that is left on the stairs has the potential to cause someone else to slip or trip. Do not leave objects on stairs, and move objects that you find on stairs to a safer location. Make it a priority to immediately clean up any spills or leaks that happen on or near stairways.


Report problems

Housekeeping and maintenance issues with stairways should be reported to your supervisor as soon as possible. If a stairway is in an unsafe condition, it is only a matter of time before it causes an injury. If you see something wrong with a step, railing or landing, let someone know about it. Everyone benefits from a clean and well-maintained facility.


Attn. employers

One way to identify hazardous conditions in your workplace, including trip hazards on stairs, is to complete regularly scheduled safety inspections. You can use one of the inspection checklist templates available through the Safety Resource Center, or create your own checklist, to document your inspection activities.

Discussion Questions


  1. Do elevation changes in a walking surface increase or decrease the likelihood of falls?

  2. What is the key to staying safe while using stairways?

  3. Name three things you can do to help maintain your balance on stairs.

  4. What should you do if you see an object that someone else has left on a stairway?

  5. What should you do if you notice a damaged or broken step or handrail?



  1. Increase

  2. Maintaining your balance

  3. Pay attention to your surroundings, use a handrail, take steps one at a time, avoid carrying heavy or awkward loads

  4. Move the object to a safer location.

  5. Report it to your supervisor so that it can be fixed.