To continue our previous blog about bleacher safety, this one focuses specifically on bleacher stairs.

In this blog, I’m going to focus on one of the biggest issues we see with bleachers: stairs. 

  • What are the rules regarding stairs on bleachers?
  • Why don’t all bleachers have stairs? 
  • Why are stairs on bleachers important? 
  • How to make sure your bleacher stairs are safe 

After a series of series injuries and deaths on bleachers, the IBC (International Building Code) created bleacher standards in 1997 (revised in 2000)*. The Ontario Building Code set out very similar standards for bleachers just after (later revised in 2006)**.

International Building Code for stairs on bleachers follows these set rules:

  1. All bleachers that can hold over 50 people must contain stairs to access these seats (Ontario Building Code = 60 people)
  2. These stairs must be 48 inches wide (OBC = 1200 mm)
  3. The stairs must not have openings that allow a 4 inch diameter sphere to pass through (OBC = 100 mm)
  4. The rise must be between 4 – 8 inches per stair (OBC =. No greater than 250 mm)  
  5. Run must be greater than 11 inches (OBC = 280 mm)
  6. If the rise is greater than 8”, an additional step must be provided (OBC = 250mm)
  7. If the rise is greater than 16”, then 2 steps must be provided. (OBC = 450 mm)
  8. Anti-slip marking strips must be present on each step
  9. Handrails are recommended 
  10. There must be a uniform rise and run on all steps
  11. No more than 20 people can be between a person and an aisle / stairway

Note that fire safety codes could override building codes for indoor events in some areas.  

Here are the major issues that we often see with bleachers, in regard to stairs… 

Step height (“rise”) issues:

An average step height (or “rise”) is 7 ¾” high, with no greater than 8” allowed, according to the International Building Code (IBC). This goes for all stairs, whether in your house, in a public building, or on bleachers.

The only difference between my house stairs and bleachers at a community event is that very few people climb the stairs in my home, while 1000’s climb the stairs on bleachers… Shouldn’t this mean that it would be more important for bleacher stairs to be building code compliant? So why are there still so many bleachers allowed to be used by the public that are not compliant? 

Studies show that when step heights are higher than 8”, people are far more likely to trip. We don’t think about climbing stairs; we go into auto pilot and just climb the stairs. When stairs are 9” high as opposed to 8”, people trip. This is why all new bleachers, especially mobile bleachers, are designed with an 8” rise. It is important that the entire flight of stairs has a uniform (equal) rise to avoid tripping. 

Step width issues:

Steps (stairways) must be 48” wide, so that you can assist people who are unable to climb by themselves (ie. toddlers learning to climb stairs, elderly people who require assistance, etc.). 

If stairs are only wide enough for a single person, then assistance is not possible. When stairs are non-existent, it makes bleacher access even more difficult and dangerous.   

Step marker issues: 

Events are often held at night or under low light, making step markers very important for safety. They can simply be a brightly coloured stripe at the edge of each stair. Step markers assist in making each step visible, greatly reducing slip and fall injuries. 

Anti-slip surfaces: 

Stair and walkways on bleachers should have anti-slip surfaces. 

When it is humid, rainy, snowy or drinks get spilt, stairs and walkways (either wood or metal) can get extremely slippery. To avoid slips and falls, these surfaces should always be anti-slip. 

Whether building/ reviewing your own bleachers, or looking into rental options, always make sure that your bleachers follow the building code. Ensure they have safe and accessible stairs and walkways to avoid injuries to your guests. 

* Standard on Bleachers, Folding and Telescopic Seating, and Grandstands, 2012 ICC 300 –

** Ontario Building Code, O Reg 332/12 under Building Code Act, 1992, S.O. 1992, c.23 –