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This article describes and includes illustrations of common causes of slippery walking surfaces on stairs and walkways. We provide citations of recommended anti-slip or anti-skid steps or other walking surfaces, we define COF - coefficient of friction and SCOF - static coefficient of friction, and we cite recommended COF or SCOF for stairs and walkways. We provide a table that compares the slipperiness of different walking surfaces & surfaces such as dry versus wet concrete, steel or wood, and algae, snow, ice or water coated walking surfaces. We also provide some stair and walkway maintenance suggestions to reduce slip, trip and fall hazards due to water, algae, snow, ice, etc. Because a slip, trip or fall on stairs or walkways may involve more hazards than just the slipperiness of the walking surface, also see Exterior Stair Falls and STAIR TREAD DIMENSIONS and Codes for Stairs as well as other stairway construction, code, & inspection articles in the links listed at Related Topics .
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2013 InspectAPedia.com, All Rights Reserved. Author Daniel Friedman.
It is readily observed that algae growth on wood surfaces may seem harmless when the steps are dry, but when any stair surface, stone, brick, wood, or other, is covered with algae and becomes wet, the surface is extremely slippery, adding significantly to the risk of a serious fall and injury.
Also see ALGAE, FUNGUS, LICHENS, MOSS for images of algae under the microscope.
Algae on Stair Treads vs Recommended Coefficient of Friction (COF) and Static Coefficient of Friction (SCOF)
Our photo (left) illustrates that multiple hazards may combine at an individual stairway leading to a fall even by people who have used the stairs many times before. The stair we show has treads that are too narrow, rise too high, uneven step riser heights, no tread nose, and no stair handrailing. But notice that at the time of our inspection the stair tread surfaces were also wet, adding to the fall hazard.
Stair Tread Anti-Slip or Coefficient of Friction Requirement for Safe Walking Surfaces
Various industry, ANSI, ASTM, OSHA, ADA standards recommend a static coefficient of friction (SCOF) of 0.5 or higher (ADA 0.6 or above) and define surfaces with SCOF of 0.4 or lower as "low traction", i.e. "slippery". 
Model building codes attempt to address the effects of algae, ice, snow, and water on stairs and walkways.
But because building codes & standards cannot anticipate every possible physical cause of slipperiness on walking surfaces or stairways, codes generally do not attempt to address every possible slippery substance that might be present such as algae, ice, snow, water, even spilled oil or food or wet paint on steps.
Since building codes cannot anticipate every possible slip trip and fall hazard, instead codes and standards typically state something like the text shown below.
Green or black stains due to algae: green stains also appear on buildings including on roof shingles, tiles, slates, on building siding, and even on masonry walls, sidewalks, planters, and retaining walls: stone, concrete block, and concrete. If you see flat green stain on a building exterior and that is not producing any plant-like raised growth it is likely to be an algae. In our photo at left both the green on the concrete grate-surround and the black on the sidewalk may be species of algae. Why are they different? Perhaps different genera/species prefer different nutrients in the two pours of concrete, or perhaps because of moisture or other surface differences.
Watch out: on walks, decks, ramps and stairs, algae makes for a dangerously slippery surface, particularly when it is wet.
At above right our photo illustrates that bricks used in a stair or walkway may be quite uneven in their ability to host slippery algal growth. Two bricks in the foreground (above the 2012) have appear to have a modest algae growth while others did not show algae. But of course there are other trip hazards here - loose bricks.
At above right the author tries out stone surfaced stairs in Girona, Spain. Early morning mist left a thin wet coating that made these steps actually more treacherous than the running stone steps on the hiking trail at above left. When water is visibly running down the steps on a hiking trail the walker might expect trouble and may walk with more care than a casual stroller or worse, a runner up the Spanish steps shown at above right.
Difficult-to-maintain snow and ice fall on decks, porches, steps, walks
At above right you can just make out a stone and gravel walkway along side of the building. Because shoveling snow off of combined surfaces (flat stones surrounded by gravel) can be difficult these walks may not be adequately cleared and may present a fall hazard more often than other surfaces exposed to winter and freezing weather.
Watch out: using a power snow-blower where loose gravel is present can throw a stone through a window or into an eye. The owners cleared this walk by hand but later later decided to reduce the risk and hassle of this hard-to-clear stone walkway by installing a roof over the entire walkway.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Slippery Walking Surfaces & Stairways
Questions & answers or comments about Algae, Ice, Fungus, Wet Surfaces & Other Stair Slip, Trip & Fall Hazards.
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Technical Reviewers & References
Related Topics, found near the top of this page suggest articles closely related to this one.