As an experienced safety consultant, I’m called on to investigate a wide range of premises liability incidents. One common premises liability incident that often results in serious injury is a fall on a handicap ramp. There are at least four types of handicap ramps – flare side, parallel, returned curb and built-up.
Handicap ramps were originally designed and incorporated into buildings as a means of egress to accommodate individuals with disabilities, particularly those in wheel chairs. Navigating a standard 6-inch curb can be a significant barrier for someone with a mobility disability and a proper ramp eliminates that barrier. This post will focus on painting on and around handicap ramps.
The International Code Council/American National Standards Institute ICC/ANSI) A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities and ADA Standards for Accessible Design provide standards and guidelines for the proper construction and placement of handicap ramps, however, it often surprises people when they find out that no Codes or Standards have provided any specifics on painting of ramps, that is up until the 2009 ICC/ANSI A117.1 which became effective in 2011. Even then the painting requirement only applies to one specific part of a curb ramp.
The 2009 ICC A117.1 states: 406.3.2 Marking. If curbs adjacent to the ramp flares are painted, the painted surface shall extend along the flared portion of the curb. The purpose of this new requirement is to provide a visual cue to pedestrians approaching the flared side of the curb.
Although there are limited painting requirements, it is the practice of many to paint ramp structures and I have seen ramps painted in many different ways with no real consistency. So why do people paint ramps? The reason is to bring attention to various aspects of a ramp such as slope, and changes in elevation, which can be a pedestrian fall hazard in some constructed ramps. Proper painting of ramps is a good practice when proper paint materials are used and it effectively highlights or alerts pedestrians to a feature of the ramp. On the other hand, improper painting can create hazards.
Walking surfaces should have adequate color contrast at change in elevation points. For example, many ramps have black asphalt abutting the white concrete of sections of the curb ramp. The color difference serves to highlight transition points and bring attention to them. Where no color contrast exists, proper painting can improve the visibility of elevations points. In the ASTM F1637 Standard for Safe Walking Surfaces, warnings and color contrast are stated to be helpful preventative measures. Painting of the top side of the entire flare or flare is discouraged by many safety professionals. One potential problem with painting the entire top side of the ramp slopes is that the paint can make the inclined surface less slip resistant. The type of paint used is a factor in slip resistance. Many paint types can make walking surfaces extremely slippery when wet. If painting is done on or around a ramp the paint used should be checked to see if it is of a formulation approved for use on exterior walking surfaces.
ASTM F1637 Standard Practice for Safe Walking Surfaces states: 5.1.3 Painted walkways shall contain an abrasive additive, crosscut grooving, texturizing or other appropriate means to render the surface slip resistant where wet conditions maybe reasonably forseeable.
On some ramps painting may camouflages areas where a change in elevation exists such as the start of a sloped section or where a curb and the walking surface meet. I often see curbs and curbs on ramps painted not only on the side face and top face but also on the walking surface just in front of the curb. In some cases, when walking on the top side this can hide the curb edge from sight and increase the fall potential.
Painting of handicap ramps is a serious consideration that should be carefully planned and performed to insure the safety of all pedestrians who interact with the walkway surface.
J. Steven Hunt, CPCU, ARM, is president and senior safety consultant at Warren. Steve specializes in premises liability incidents, construction falls and safety management programs, has achieved the designation of Associate Risk Management and Chartered Property and Liability Underwriter from Insurance Institute of America, Chicago, IL. Steve has investigated more than 1,000 accidents in his more than 39-year career, including 33 cases involving fatalities. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Administrative Management with a Minor in Occupational Safety and Health from Clemson University.