The social context for stairway design in multi-story buildings is changing. At one time, stairways were viewed primarily as a means of egress in an emergency, and elevators or escalators were the primary method of vertical circulation with the exception of monumental “feature” stairways. Today, the emphasis is changing to promote the use of stairways in buildings as opposed to use of elevators due to the health benefits of stair climbing. This is providing an opportunity for architects and building owners to experiment with innovative designs. One interesting innovation is the “interactive stairway.” Little is known about the impact of these interventions on the rate of stair accidents. The purpose of this study was to assess the safety of interactive stairway designs by comparing the user's behavior and the incidence of unsafe stair use on two interactive stairways with a stairway made of conventional material. A checklist for recording observations of stair users was developed. Observations were conducted in two museum buildings with interactive stairways and in one university building with a conventional stairway. Safety-related behaviors and incidents on the interactive stairways (CM and SM) and the conventional stairway (SU) were documented and compared. On the interactive stairways, more stair users glanced down at the treads (CM: 90%, SM: 81% vs. SU: 53%); fewer stair users diverted their gaze away from the stairs (CM: 22%, SM: 32% vs. SU: 66%); and handrail use was higher (CM: 40%, SM: 33% vs. SU: 28%). Incident rates were similar across the stairways (CM: 2.2%, SM: 2.2%, SU: 2.6%). The research suggests that interactivity can improve stair safety if used appropriately.
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