According to the US Census Bureau, 12.6% of adults in the US has an ambulatory disability that makes it difficult for them to climb stairs. This has led to an increase in the number of ramps and inclined surfaces being installed in public places as well as in homes across the United States. As our population continues to age, we are likely to see more ramps in our future.
While ramps can significantly increase mobility, walking on a slope requires you to change your posture. Your center of gravity shifts, and the angle of your ankle when you step changes to accommodate the slope. Gravity will pull you down the slope, creating a new slip and fall hazard. To add to the problem, many of these ramps are outside and they’re usually open to the elements like rain and snow.
Here are our recommendations on ways that you can prevent a fall while walking up or down a ramp, and steps that can be taken to mitigate the inherent risks of ramps both at home and at work.
- Pay Attention and Slow Down: Knowing that a ramp is going to throw off your balance should prompt you to walk slower and take smaller steps when on a ramp. When the ramp is dirty, wet, or icy, it will be more slippery and more dangerous, so it’s important to take each step with care.
- Be Careful When Carrying Items: Being careful on ramps or stairs when carrying anything is a universal prevention measure. Any time your attention is split between what you’re holding and where you are walking, you are at risk for a slip or fall. Your weight distribution and balance are affected, and the greater physical effort can result in muscle failure. Of course, your hands aren’t available to hold onto the handrails and your view of the stairs may be blocked by the object you’re carrying.If you have to carry something up or down a ramp, focus on carrying things safely. Making multiple trips with smaller and lighter loads will make you safer.
- Use Handrails When Available: You might be thinking, “who needs a handrail, it’s only a ramp”, but you would be surprised. Even if you’re fully mobile, keeping a hand on the rail provides another point of contact, increasing stability and providing a way to recover if you should stumble. Handrails are so effective in minimizing falls that many governmental agencies require handrails on ramps.
You can mitigate the slip, trip and fall risk on stairs by mitigating design, construction and material flaws that often leads to slips and falls. You can also reduce risk by mitigating the environmental conditions that encourage falls. Here are ways to mitigate the inherent risk from ramps.
- Improve Traction: If ice and snow visit you during the winter, or algae or mold grow on your ramp, installing traction tools, like aluminum Handi-Treads, will greatly increase the traction and safety factor for both pedestrians and those in wheelchairs.
- Install Handrails: Ramps should always have a well-secured handrail, if at all possible. Using a handrail while ascending or descending a ramp provides an extra point of contact and stability that reduces the chance of slipping and falling.
- Insure the Ramp is in Good Shape: As with any structure, insuring that the ramp itself is in good shape is a first step towards minimizing the risk of a slip, trip or fall. Wood planks that are uneven or delaminating can easily catch a toe, causing someone to stumble. If your wood ramp is deteriorating, consider aluminum Handi-Treads as a way to safely increase their useful life by protecting the edges of the boards.
- Correct, ADA Compliant Ramp Slope: The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that the vertical rise of a ramp be no more than one inch for every twelve inches of length. This 1:12 slope suggests that if your ramp needs to rise from ground level to a porch or deck two feet off the ground, the ramp length must be 24 feet in length.
- Keep the Ramp Free of Ice and Snow: While ramps can be built out of many materials, most are made of wood, concrete, or metal. Understanding the hazards inherent in each type of material can help to keep you safe. Wood ramps will absorb water and tend to be slippery when wet; they also become very slippery when covered with snow or ice. Concrete ramps should have proper drainage to prevent water accumulation. Metal ramps should have a non-slip pattern built into their walking surface. Using salt or another deicer during winter months can help keep your ramp ice free. If your ramp is slippery you can apply slip and fall prevention products to make it safer.