You can significantly reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls if your home is designed and maintained with safety in mind. Here’s some things to think about.

By incorporating safety features at the design stage you won’t necessarily have to spend more. For example, small changes in level, such as single steps increase your fall risk. By designing your home without single steps you reduce your trip or fall risk and it shouldn’t cost you any more.

Some other considerations are to:

  • Avoid lips at doorways to the outside, but ensure there is adequate drainage
  • Use fitted carpet
  • Install a fixed heating system so you don’t need portable heating appliances with cables trailing across the floor
  • Provide light switches at the entry door of rooms, corridors and stairs.
  • Fit security stays on low-level windows to prevent them from obstructing paths or walkways outdoors.

Front Path

The Building Code requires that the path from the street to the front door is sufficiently slip resistant so you can safely enter and exit your home. For homes built before 1992 there were no specific slip resistance requirements. Slip resistance is the ability of a finished floor surface to provide sufficient friction to reduce the risk of injury from slipping. If the path gets wet, then it must not be slippery when wet.

Paths and driveways need to be:

  • Well lit. Sensor lights mean you are not lighting the area unnecessarily.
  • Level. Don’t design the path with sudden changes in level.
  • No steeper than 1:12 if they are sloping. Ramps should have a handrail.
  • Non-slip when wet. Some materials are more suitable for this than others.

Entry steps or steps within a path should have:

  • A handrail.
  • Clearly defined, non-slip edges. You can use screw-on nosing or self adhesive strips.
  • Even height and width. Easy-to-use steps have a height of 160-180mm and a tread width of 175-195 mm. Uneven steps are a major cause of injuries.

You could also consider painting the front edge of the steps with white paint to make them more visible.

Front entry

Front entries should provide:

  • Space for people to gather with some shelter.
  • Surfaces that are non-slip when wet.
  • A flat landing area immediately outside the front door.
  • An aluminium or timber door sill set into the floor to minimise lips that people have to lift their foot over.

Balconies, decks and mezzanines

Since 1992, if the balcony or deck is one metre or more off the ground you have to provide a barrier. However it is worth considering putting a barrier on balconies or decks below one metre to prevent people simply walking off the edge.

Timber-slatted decks and concrete patios.

Timber-slat decks can be very slippery especially when wet, mossy or when it’s frosty. Grooved timber decking is more slip resistant in the wet than smooth timber, as long as you are walking against the grooves.

Timber-slatted decks can be installed at the same level as the floor inside to give level access but you must have a gap of at least 6-12 mm between your wall cladding and the deck to allow for drainage and prevent water pooling. Any lip at the door sill or step down onto the deck should be easily distinguished by users. Windows opening onto decks and patios should not obstruct travel paths outside.

Risk of falling from decks is higher where:

  • Barriers are not provided – barriers must be provided on new buildings where it is possible to fall more than one metre from the deck surface.
  • Low seats are placed around the edge of the deck. It is the platform height which is used by building inspectors to decide if you need a barrier. If you install a fixed seat on a deck it increases the height of the platform to the top of the seat.
  • Decks have small changes in level.
  • Barriers are not in good condition.

The Building Code requires barriers to be:

  • Installed wherever it is possible to fall more than one metre from a deck.
  • At least one metre high.
  • Designed so that a child cannot get a foothold and climb the deck between the heights of 150 mm and 760 mm.
  • Able to resist loads from occupants.

If you opt to install a barrier on a deck below one metre in height, the barrier must still comply with the Building Code.

For homes with small children, put stair gates at the top of stairs from the deck.

To have a safe non-slip deck:

  • Run grooved decking across the main travel paths when installing or replacing the decking. Decks with the grooves running across will improve slip resistance when dry. When wet or slimy the deck will still be slippery.
  • Clean the surface to remove moss often.
  • Paint the deck, incorporating sand into the wet paint.
  • Install outdoor carpet over the decking.
  • Regularly tidy up toys etc after deck use.
  • The safety of concrete patios depends on their surface finish – very smooth finishes can be slippery when wet. The more texture a concrete surface has the better slip resistance it provides. Concrete patios are often finished with tiles or pavers which can, depending on their surface finish, also be slippery.

For new concrete use a light broom finish or applied non-slip surface rather than a steel trowelled finish.

Waterproof decks and balconies

Decks that have a waterproof coating or membrane over them can become slippery when wet.

Your deck may be finished with a painted or acrylic surface coating, timber-slat duckboards, tiles, stone or paving slabs. Depending on the finish, these can be slippery when wet.

Incorporate:

  • Sufficient slope so water drains off the surface and there are no areas of ponding.
  • A waterproofing membrane or surface finish that provides good slip resistance when wet.
  • A clearly defined entrance from the deck into the building.

Garage

Internal access garages often have a single step at the door. Small level-changes like this increase the tripping risk when you step up, or fall risk when you step down, as the step is often difficult to distinguish from its surroundings.

Garages should have:

  • A wood float finish, or be painted with non-slip paving paint or coarse sand added to the wet paint to give it grip.
  • Automatic lighting.
  • A door which opens inwards into the house.

The garden

  • Typical slip, trip and fall risks in the garden are:
  • Sudden changes of level in lawns or paths.
  • Cracks, pot-holes or uneven surfaces in driveways, paths and steps.
  • Slippery paths, paving or steps.
  • Unprotected banks and retaining walls – under the Building Code banks and retaining walls may require a non-climbable barrier when the fall distance is more than one metre. Even if they are not required, they may prevent people from being injured from a fall.
  • Children’s play equipment, particularly when installed over a hard surface.
  • Toys, bikes, tools etc left lying around.
  • Climbable trees and fences and tree huts.
  • Difficult to see changes in slope.
  • Power leads and water hoses.
  • Windows opening into pathways.

Paving materials that provide good slip resistance when wet are:

  • Unglazed clay tiles.
  • Asphalt.
  • Broomed or stamped concrete (coatings applied to stamped concrete can increase slipperiness).
  • Concrete pavers.
  • Outdoor carpet.
  • Sawn or honed stone slabs.

Pools, spas and ponds

Like bathrooms, pool and spa surrounds must be considered as wet areas. Pools and spas also usually incorporate steps and ladders that become slippery when wet.

To reduce the risk of slipping:

  • Use surface finishes that provide good slip resistance.
  • Ensure surfaces around pools and spas are sloped to effectively drain water away.
  • Apply slip resistant surfacing to steps.
  • All pools, spas and ponds more than 400mm deep come under the requirements of the Fencing of Swimming Pools Act. See Fencing of Swimming Pools Act for more information.