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Building up, building down? Watch your stair safety, warns the BWF
The increasing number of loft conversions and basement constructions in UK homes is leading to more stair complaints and an increasing risk of injury to homeowners, according to the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) Stair Scheme.
“With more than 350,000 injuries and 550 deaths attributed to falls on domestic stairs every year in the UK, it is essential that stair safety is prioritised,” says Hannah Mansell, BWF Stair Scheme manager. “Not enough builders understand that timber stairs are finely engineered products created by skilled manufacturers, but designed or installed badly they can quickly become a death trap.”
The BWF is highlighting one recent example, where a homeowner was left with significant costs and concern trying to put right a timber stair that was non-compliant, incorrectly specified and incompetently installed within his new loft conversion.
Jason Neale and his family were left with a partially installed stair (pictured below) and incomplete loft conversion after the builder was asked to leave the site following a catalogue of errors.
“It was very clear that they didn’t know what they were doing and that I needed to find a competent stair manufacturer to supply a second stair. How is a stair that has been adjusted and butchered on site going to be safe for my young family to use?”
BWF Stair Scheme member Higginson Staircases was called in to assist with the replacement stair.
Jason said: “Higginsons were fantastic. The entire team from the boss to the installation guys on site were wholly professional and it was clear they know what they were doing from the outset. They overcame design and structural fixing challenges easily and I’m very pleased with the stair they supplied. Even though the stair (pictured below) is still to be painted and carpeted, you can see the quality of workmanship. Really the timber is beautiful as it is.”
Loft conversions are defined largely by the building construction and layout of the existing property. Access via a timber staircase is the most common method used in loft conversions and one of the more difficult products to get right.
Hannah Mansell advises:
“Getting an expert involved at the earliest stages of the project is key to getting the design and specification right. Complying with building regulations is obviously an essential part of the equation, but there are many other aspects that are involved when designing timber staircases for loft or basement conversions.
“Design and manufacture is complicated and involves many different woodworking disciplines to make a complete staircase, and the accuracy and security of the installation is just as important. A stair installation needs to be carried out by those that specialise in the task and have had appropriate training in the handling and installation.”
Commenting on the case, Hannah Mansell said:
“Loft conversions and basements can prove particularly complicated. You need to squeeze staircase into existing spaces rather than designing around the staircase, as is more common with new projects and major refurbs.
“As a growing sector, BWF Stair Scheme members are reporting many similar issues. Some of this is down to demand not being matched by an availability of skilled labour, people who really understand all aspects of designing and building a loft conversion. This skills gap ultimately affects the safety of UK homeowners and other building users.
“Problems can occur at all stages from incorrect design and measurement of the stair, right through to installation. This is why our members have worked hard to produce technical guidance, training and resources that are freely available to those that work with timber stairs.”
The BWF Stair Scheme guidance, including design and installation guides for private stairs, along with a whole range of other resources, is available from www.bwfstairscheme.org.uk.
The BWF Stair Scheme is the only accreditation and certification scheme of its kind in the UK. It was established in 2011 to raise awareness of timber stair standards, to give accreditation to high quality stair manufacturers and to improve safety. Ranging from domestic, common and fire protected common stairs, the standard expected of the manufacturers for their stairs is extremely high to ensure quality and safety.
The scheme now represents approximately 70% of the timber stair market, bringing together like-minded manufacturers committed to driving up standards to make the industry more competitive against rival materials and to increase market share.