Extract from the Human Rights Commission website: © Australian Human Rights Commission

Open risers and overhanging treads on stairways

Importance of the feature

Open risers in stairways cause particular access difficulties for people with a vision impairment, especially if there is a light source coming from behind the stairs. Open risers or overhanging treads/goings that result in lips on each step also make upwards movement very difficult for people with mobility disabilities who are able to use stairs.

Open risers can cause people with certain types of vision impairment to experience vertigo as they ascend a flight of stairs due to the strobing effect of the stair treads/goings and the light between each tread/going.

People using walking sticks can also experience difficulties if their stick slides from the step into the opening. People who have a prosthesis or a disability that limits limb movement face a much greater risk of catching their toes under the lip and losing balance when trying to retrieve their foothold.


Code requirements

The Building Code of Australia (BCA) in refers to stairways in D3.3(c) and requires compliance with AS1428.1 for stairways that are required to have access features. The Commission’s view is that all stairways should have these features for access and safety reasons.

AS 1428.1 specifies technical details on the construction of stairways including requirements for opaque risers.

 no open risers
Photo 1 shows a set of stairs with no open risers

Achieving best results

To be effective stair design must be within the design criteria set out in AS1428.1.

This is achieved by ensuring:

  • Risers are enclosed and without lips.
  • Each riser is opaque.

Common problems and misinterpretations

1. Open risers

Open risers on stairs

Photo 2

Open risers on stairs

Photo 3

Open risers on stairs

Photo 4

Closed risers but excessive overhang on lip

Photo 5

None of the stairways in photos in 2 – 5 meet the requirements of stairways suitable for people with disabilities in AS1428.1. Photos 2, 3 and 4 show open risers, with 3 and 4 showing light sources coming from behind the stairways, thus creating a strobing effect as one ascends the stairways. People using walking sticks or canes could also loose their footing if their stick slipped through the openings.

Photo 5, although showing enclosed and opaque risers this stairway still presents as a problem for people with a prosthesis or someone with ambulant disabilities that restricts leg movements due to the protruding lip which might catch someone’s toe.

Closed risers with no overhang
Photo 6

Photo 6 shows the required enclosed opaque risers with no overhangs.