Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tread Lightly - and don't bust your butt doing it

I continue to find more and more amazing steps and stairs both backstage and in the audience chamber that don't comply with ADA and NFPA Life Safety Code requirements for clearly marking the edges of steps.  sMany of these are in brand new buildings - why are code inspectors and architects not addressing this?

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) places great emphasis on the need for people to clearly see the edges of floor transitions.  The ADA guidelines and rules are not just about preventing and marking bumps under wheelchair wheels!   It is about all of us needing to see under low-light conditions, and these conditions occur in many places outside of the theatre, too.
  • When light levels are low our vision becomes monochromatic (black and white, or really shades of gray), so there is less information for our brain to process.  Strike One.
  • We usually don't look directly where we are going to step, we rely on our peripheral vision, which is much less detailed than our central cone of vision.  Strike two.
  • Where we step is largely governed by out sense of where we think our feet are going, and a large dose of trust that the destination is safe (i.e. flat, level, and large enough to stand upon).  If it's not, then Strike 3.
  What you (don't) see above is the two steps leading down from a sort platform stage into the front cross-aisle.  And no, the dark-gray to light-gray transition is not the step.  It's like (not) seeing a polar bear in a snowstorm.  And that is with the houselights UP.  Imagine this in the dark with black and-white vision . . .

At left is a stairwell in the catwalk system.  The picture was taken with a flash so it appears much brighter than the actual working space.  Black steps with no contrasting edges, and the step treads are only about 8" front to back, not hardly enough to plant your foot on when you are going up them in a size 11 work boot, and very difficult to get a feel for when descending in the dark - your toes want to fall right on over the edges that you can barely see.

The diamond plate tread pattern can be helpful if you have a coarse tread work shoe, but if there is very much dust build-up it can still be quite slippery.

One way to retrofit steps for traction and visibility is to add a stair nosing assembly that has both traction grit and a  photoluminescent  strip combined.  The GBC ST-1001 Bull Nose Stair Nosing is a good example of this type of product.

GBC makes another product that has a slide-in media slot that can be used for decorative inserts or possibly a paid advertising space and generate revenue resource for a venue.

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