There is nothing in OHS/WHS legislation that specifically addresses steps and stairs in the workplace. However, both employers and individuals in control of a workplace have a legal duty, under their general duty of care, to ensure a safe and healthy work environment.
The specific regulations pertaining to the construction of stairways, platforms, landings, and similar structures are found elsewhere and are typically known to builders and architects. Steps and stairs must adhere to the Building Code of Australia, which has been designated as a building regulation by the states and territories of Australia.
It is worth noting that the NCC 2015 was adopted by the States and Territories on May 1, 2015. The NCC undergoes regular updates and amendments, with the current edition being NCC 2022.
The latest edition is now available on the NCC website. As the information on this page is intended for health and safety representatives (HSRs) and workers, employers and builders should seek specific guidance from qualified architects or other professionals with suitable expertise.
A list of amendments incorporated in NCC 2022 is also available to help determine if a technical change has occurred in NCC 2022 that would potentially cause the 2019 Guide commentary to be outdated.
Stairways in the workplace
The following is taken from the NCC 2019 Building Code of Australia (Volume one - commercial buildings) and is for information only - please check the Building Code for more information.
A stairway must have -
- not more than 18 nor less than 2 risers in each flight; and
- (generally except in certain circumstances as set out in D2.13 b & c*): going (G), riser (R) and quantity (2R + G) in accordance with the Table below); and
- (generally except in certain circumstances as set out in D2.13 b & c*), goings and risers that are constant throughout in one flight. They are considered constant if the variation between -
- adjacent risers, or between adjacent goings, is no greater than 5mm; and
- the largest and smallest riser within a flight, or the largest and smallest going within a flight, does not exceed 10mm; and
- risers which do not have any openings that would allow a 125 mm sphere to pass through between the treads; and
- treads which have -
- a surface with a slip-resistance classification not less than that listed (in Table D2.14 of the code) when tested in accordance with AS 4586; or
- a nosing strip with a slip-resistance classification not less than that listed (in Table D2.14) when tested in accordance with AS 4586; and
- treads of solid construction (not mesh or other perforated material) if the stairway is more than 10 m high or connects more than 3 storeys; and
- in a Class 9b building, not more than 36 risers in consecutive flights without a change in direction of at least 30°; and
- in the case of a required stairway, no winders in lieu of a landing.
D2.13 b & c - set out special circumstances for 'non-required' stairways, and stairways discharging to a sloping public walkway or public road.
Table (from Table D2.13 ) Riser and Going Dimensions (mm)
|Riser (R)||Going (G)*||Quantity (2R + G)|
* The going in tapered treads (except winders in lieu of a quarter or half landing) in a curved or spiral stairway is measured -
- 270 mm in from the outer side of the unobstructed width of the stairway if the stairway is less than 1 m wide (applicable to a non-required stairway only); and
- 270 mm from each side of the unobstructed width of the stairway if the stairway is 1 m wide or more.
In addition, the Australian Standard has recently been updated to be consistent with the Building Code: AS 1657- 2013: Fixed platforms, walkways, stairways and ladders - Design, construction and installation.
The Australian Standard contains detailed advice on steps, stairs, landings, guard rails and so on:
Rises and goings:
- All rises (R) and all goings (G), in the same flight of stairs, shall be of uniform dimensions within a tolerance of +/-5mm
- For each rise: minimum 130mm, maximum 225mm
- For each going: minimum 215mm, maximum 355mm
- The going shall be not greater than the tread depth (TD) plus a maximum gap of 30 mm between the rear edge of one tread and the nosing of the tread above.
- The combination of twice the riser plus the going (2R + G) shall be not less than 540 mm, and not greater than 700 mm [i.e. 540 ≤ (2R + G) ≤700].
NOTE: builders must check that any stairs to be constructed comply with the Building Code and also ensure they are using the latest edition of the Australian Standard
Guardrails and handrails in the workplace
The Australian Standard specifies that except where there is a fixed structure at a distance not greater than 100mm from the stairway stile, stairways and stairway landing shall be provided with guardrailing on any exposed side.
The guardrailing must be constructed to comply with one of the following requirements:
- A top rail, supported by posts, parallel to the floor or slope of a walkway at a vertical height of not less than 900mm above the standing level of such a platform or walkway (where the fall height is significant, or where there may be wind forces, the height should be increased to at least 1000mm).
- Where the guardrailing is of post and rail construction there are requirements, such as distance between rails; OR
- When it is constructed with welded mesh, supported by posts and provided with a reinforced top edge capable of withstanding the prescribed design loads
With regard to handrails:
- Every stairway shall be provided with at least one handrail which shall have a smooth continuous top surface throughout the length of each stairway flight and have no obstruction on or above them that will tend to break a handhold.
- Where the width of the stairway exceeds 1000mm, a handrail shall be provided on each side.
Slips, trips and falls in the OHS Act
Slipping, tripping or falling are risks that can be associated with steps and stairs, and can lead to serious injuries. Under s21 of the 2004 OHS Act, the employer has a duty of care to provide and maintain a safe and healthy workplace - all potential hazards must be identified, the associated risk assessed and then controls introduced to eliminate or reduce those risks as far as practicable.
Also under the Act (s26), persons who 'manage or control' workplaces must ensure that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it are safe and without risks to health.
For more information, including advice to OHS reps, and links, go to the slips, trips and falls hazard information page.
- The National Construction Code - 2019: The Building Code of Australia and The BCA Guide (go to the NCC online to register and get access to the Code and guide). NOTE: the National Construction Code 2019 is available on the ABCB website.
Updated July 2023