This year’s release of the Building Code of Australia (BCA) 2014 and its application in May, as with every year, brings a number of changes.

One ongoing area of ambiguity for many years was the requirements for stairway treads, landings and ramps to have slip-resistant, non-skid or non-slip properties.

These requirements made sense given that in Australia a staggering 144,000 hospital day beds annually are attributed to admissions due to falls. The problems arising with these inclusions however, were that the terms were not clearly defined, that an objective level of slip resistance for each application was not provided, and that a method for measuring slip resistance was not outlined or identified.

To address these issues, the relevant Australian Standard regarding the measurement and classification of slip resistance, AS 4586: 2013 Slip resistance classification of new pedestrian surface materials was revised accordingly and is now referenced to the BCA 2014. This standard sets out suitable testing methods as well as the resulting classifications for each of the test methods.

Test methods included in the standard allow for both wet and dry conditions and the limitations of the some of the test methods are also raised. The BCA, however, only references classifications achieved via a Wet Pendulum Test or Oil-Wet Inclining Platform Test; these are generally classification values preceded by P or R.

The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) had raised its intention to reference the revised standard in early 2013, soon after the release of the standard. The intent is to allow manufacturers of flooring materials to undertake the necessary testing in time for the incoming changes to the BCA. Given this, many manufacturers and suppliers should be now well placed to provide the information necessary to architects and designers when specifying flooring.

It should be noted however that the inclusions to the BCA are targeted at only two building elements identified as presenting a higher risk of slips and falls. These are stairs and ramps, with some differentiation also identified based on the gradient of a ramp. Pedestrian ramps with a gradient of 1:10 will require a higher level of slip resistance to longer 1:14 ramps. Designers and specifiers are also allowed flexibility with designing floor finishes on stair treads by either providing a suitably slip resistant surface to the entire tread or to just the nosing of each tread as well as the landing edge.

Also significant is that these requirements have been included in both volumes of the BCA, effectively making them a requirement across all building classifications. Volume 2, however, does not include reference to ramps given that access to people with a disability is not a BCA requirement to private individual residential dwellings.

Following on from this, however, all other building classifications must be accessible to people with disabilities under the BCA with the referenced Australian Standard outlining requirements for access being AS 1428.1: 2009 Design for access and mobility – General requirements for access – New building work.

AS 1428.1 subsequently states that continuous accessible paths of travel and circulation spaces defined in the standard must have a slip resistant surface; as with the BCA previously, no further information is however provided with regard to testing and classification. To better address this omission, designers are best advised to consider HB 197: 1999 - An introductory guide to the slip resistance of pedestrian surface materials in their selection of floor finishes to the remainder of the buildings they design. This guide is also raised as a suitable guideline within the revised AS 4586: 2013.

Factors arising at occupation and use must also not be forgotten in the consideration of floor finishes. Frequency and type of usage, cleaning systems, coatings and patterns of wear can all have a significant impact on the characteristics of the floor affecting slip resistance. The limitations of the new requirements and their application to only new materials should also be acknowledged. Installed flooring materials should be tested in accordance with AS 4663: 2013 Slip resistance measurement of existing pedestrian surfaces.

  • Nice contribution George. Yet I think we've jumped to the conclusion without regard to the problem. Is the suggestion that "Australia a staggering 144,000 hospital day beds annually are attributed to admissions due to falls"(sic)- are due to stairs and ramps? You'd agree that this is simply fallacious. There is no evidence to suggest that stairs and ramps are contributory in any way to the hospital figures. Likewise, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that increasing slip resistance might reduce the incidents of falls at stairs and ramps. Increasing slip resistance to counter falls doesn't make sense at all as most falls from the same level requiring hospitalisation are aged related and nothing to do with slippery surfaces.

  • To follow Richard's comment, one could add that owing to the design-induced shortened gait, it is very likely that stair walking demands less friction than when walking on the surrounding surfaces. Despite the vast sums obviously spent on friction enhancements on stairs, published examination of changes in fall incidence owing to these interventions appear to be fairly thin on the ground.