Raised booth seating, sometimes used in restaurants, is associated with an increased rate of misstep and fall incidents. In this configuration, the booth is placed on a raised platform that is typically six inches above the adjacent floor, resulting in a single riser stair.
Single riser stairs, when not identified by pedestrians, create a risk of mis-steps when entering or leaving the booth. In this article, Architect & Premises Safety Expert, Scott Klimek discusses the hazards presented by the use of single riser stair platforms for booth seating in restaurants, and the design codes and standards that apply.
Raised Booth Platform Seating – Expert Article
Raised platform and single step booth seating are unnecessary dangers. Accidents and injuries caused by raised booth seating can be avoided if designers and operators follow applicable building codes and standards for safe walkways and stairs.
Single steps are the leading cause of mis-steps. Air steps occur when a pedestrian expects the floor to be planar and is surprised and caught off balance when the foot travels lower or further than anticipated. Building codes and standards for walkways and stairs aim to eliminate or minimize the use of single steps.
Injuries can happen at raised booth seating when a patron leaves their table, but has forgotten about the step they encountered when arriving to the booth. Upon exiting they attempt to locate the floor in the aisle, of a similar or same finish material, sometimes under low lighting conditions. The patron assumes they are on the same level, only to find that the fall of their step takes them off balance and suddenly looking for recovery. In the best case scenario, recovery could be achieved by way of a hand rail, but restaurants typically do not provide a handrail at single step raised platform booths.
Design Codes and Standards
With three or fewer risers, the raised booth acts as a low rise stair and must meet the requirements set forth in the building code. Low-rise stairs are allowed by exception but only if made conspicuous with handrails or contrasting floor materials. Stair accidents are common where the user makes an error in judgement due to a distraction, irregularity, or deception built into the surrounding environment of the stair. Proper warning, lightning, and guards do not always meet a restaurant’s hospitable design aesthetic, and are often left out.
When designing and using a single riser step in raised booth seating, the following should be considered:
- Short flight stairs should be avoided where possible.
- In situations where a short flight stair or single step transition exists or cannot be avoided, obvious visual cues shall be provided to facilitate improved step identification. Handrails, delineated nosing edges, tactile cues, warning signs, contrast in surface colors, and adjacent lighting are examples of some appropriate warning cues.
- The use of visual cues such as warnings, accent lighting, handrails, contrast painting, and other cues to improve the safety of walkway transitions are recognized as effective controls in some applications. However, such cues or warnings do not necessarily negate the need for safe design and construction.
By design, restaurants are vibrant and active environments which may distract patrons from hazards that are present. The primary reason short flights are dangerous is that the difference in elevation between the two floors is difficult to identify and gauge, and people sometimes don’t see the level change until they have already begun to fall. If raised platforms must be included, employing as many visual clues as possible will facilitate improved step identification. These visual cues which emphasize the location of the step, stair or encroachment to draw the user’s attention to it include;
- Lighting on the stairway in a manner that will emphasize the treads and handrails, and deemphasize everything else that’s visible to the stair user
- Tread color and material, nosing edges, handrails, or surrounding walls
- Warning signs
People do not always monitor the detailed condition of the walking surface. The normal line of site is about 15 degrees below horizontal relative to the eyes. Most of the time people do not walk around looking down at their feet, so small changes in surface elevation and other surface inconsistencies are not always seen. Even if someone is looking down at the surface, it remains possible that irregularities will not be perceived.
Restaurant patrons may be too close to the step for it to be within their normal line of sight. By extending the floor of the booth further beyond the table and providing patrons a safe and limited area where they could step down from the raised platform to the floor below, they would have had an opportunity to identify that the change in level existed. Raised booth seating increases the risk of missteps and fall incidents, but when designed with the proper safety features and warnings, the occurrence of mis-steps and resulting injuries can be minimized.
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Architecture, Construction & Premises Safety Expert
Scott Klimek is a Licensed Architect with over 20 years of experience in building design, document preparation, code compliance, and construction administration procedures. He has a diversified background that includes all phases of project design, construction, and occupancy, from initial conception through final acceptance, use and maintenance, and demolition. Scott is experienced in the design and documentation of large scale commercial and residential projects. These have included highly specialized projects such as healthcare, justice and corrections facilities, educational institutions, arts and entertainment facilities, and sports facilities. He is also well versed in issues for special users, including Barrier-Free standards and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines.