RoSPA’s Safer Stairs campaign achieves major breakthrough, as Government commits to consultation on changing Building Regulations

30/03/2022

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is delighted to confirm that the campaign to make stairs safer has achieved a major breakthrough.

The Government is now proceeding with a consultation on updating the Building Regulations to include British Standard 5395-1 on stair design, pledging to complete the review “as expeditiously as possible, and certainly within the year”.

The change to the Building Regulations would significantly improve the safety of all new-build homes, with the updated stair design associated with a staggering 60 per cent reduction in the risk of falls. 

With early support in the House of Commons from Paul Maynard MP, (Blackpool North and Cleveleys), RoSPA’s nine-month journey has involved considerable engagement with Government ministers and officials. RoSPA has now secured Government backing to have the existing British Standard 5395-1 enshrined into Building Regulations, provided the results of the industry consultation are positive.  

RoSPA, who identified stair safety as a significant threat to the UK population, has called falls on the stairs “a hidden killer” which claims the lives of over 700 people in England every year, and hospitalises 43,000 more.  

Errol Taylor, RoSPA’s Chief Executive Officer, 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.” 

Speaking on behalf of RoSPA’s Presidential team, Baroness Jolly, RoSPA President, said: “We are delighted that the Government has now committed to a consultation on adopting British Standard 5395-1 into the Building Regulations. It has been a long campaign and we are incredibly grateful to all those people, businesses and organisations who have been involved. This excellent news follows many months of discussions with Ministers and Government and it is wonderful to see the efforts from all quarters coming to fruition.  

This is a real achievement for everyone involved – we hope this will save lives and make the homes of the future safer places to live. Thank you to all our supporters. Our work at RoSPA will continue on this life-saving initiative.” 

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 baked-in at the design stage of new homes. The law will only apply to new-build properties and therefore would not require costly retrofitting in existing houses. Consulting widely, RoSPA has engaged with trade associations and housing groups throughout, including the Home Builders Federation (HBF), Local Government Authority (LGA), National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and the National Home Builders Council (NHBC).  

Karl Whiteman, Divisional Managing Director, Berkeley Group 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.” 

Helen Moore, Group Director, Orbit Homes added: “Surely it is our moral imperative to ensure the houses we design and build are safe for the people who call them home.”  

Dr Julian Redhead, Medical Director, Imperial NHS Trust, said: “Falls are a really important part of the work that ends up coming to our accident and emergency department. Anything that we can do to prevent them, such as the work RoSPA is doing looking at staircase safety is really, really vital.” 

Notes to editors 

  • The British Standard 5395-1 has been in place as an industry-standard since 2010, and is part of the Building Regulations passed by the Coalition Government. However, the 2010 legislation only put the standard in place as a recommendation, not as a legal requirement (therefore as there is nothing compelling builders to make stairs to this standard, most simply ignore it, understandably focusing on the regulations they need to comply to) 

  • The standard has been thoroughly tested, evidenced and assessed by industry and Government 

  • The difference between staircases built to BS 5395-1 and most other staircases are minimal to the naked eye, but they are significant in terms of reducing the risk of falls 

  • The standard will require that the ‘going’ (horizontal portion of each stair) must be at least 250mm, while currently the minimum is 225mm. This small change reduces the risk of ‘overstepping’- a common cause of falls 

  • The standard also requires the provision of handrails, mandating two, one of which must always be within reach 

  • RoSPA is not proposing retrofitting stairs that have already been built, but instead making BS 5395-1 the standard in all new-builds. As such, the policy will not come with a cost for builders or the Government 

  • The campaign reflects the seriousness of the issue. Every year, in England alone 700 people die from falling on the stairs, and for every one hospital admission caused by a burn there are 235 caused by a fall. Stairs built to the British Standard reduce the risk of falls by an incredible 60 per cent, meaning the majority of these falls could be avoided  

  • RoSPA has met with various trade associations and housing groups throughout its campaign, including the Home Builders Federation (HBF), Local Government Authority (LGA), National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and National Home Builders Council (NHBC). RoSPA has faced no opposition from any of the industry bodies in question 

  • In England, 43,000 people a year are admitted to hospital with physical injuries due to falls on stairs 

  • Falls are the single biggest cause of accidental injuries in the home, and the largest cause of accidental death among over-65s in the UK 

  • Falls on stairs claim the lives of more than 700 people in England alone every year  

  • 80 per cent of hospital admissions for the over-65s are as a result of a fall  

  • Those over seventy are most vulnerable, accounting for 85 per cent of falls fatalities 

  • Falls resulted in over 66,000 hip fractures in 2018 

  • The chances of dying from a fall is 23 times greater than dying from burns 

  • Annual deaths due to falls, including falls on stairs, have nearly doubled in England from 3,667 deaths in 1990 to 7,274 in 2019, whereas the number of deaths from burns and fire has halved in the same period 

  • Every year more than a third of people over the age of 65 (and half of those over 80) have a fall that requires hospital treatment, costing the NHS and wider healthcare system more than £4billion every year. 

For more information visit our Safer Stairs webpage 

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