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A brief history of BSI’s standards on stairs and staircases

Wooden it be nice? BS 585

For almost forty years, the only stairs and staircases covered by British Standards were the wooden variety.

British Standard Specification for Wooden Stairs BS 585 appeared in 1934.  Over 50 organisations were represented on the Building Divisional Council at the time, including the governments Office of Works and the Royal Institute of British Architects.  It covered stairs for interior purposed only and was one of a series of British Standard Specifications for joinery units.

The title changed to Wood Stairs with Closed Strings with the 1944 edition.  Strings are the inclined boards in which the treads and risers are enclosed. In closed string stairs, the treads and risers are contained within the inside of the string.  Viewed from the outside of the stair, a closed string looks like one solid beam running along the bottom of the base rails,  The staircase is entirely closed off and is a cheaper method of manufacture.  The 1944 scope specified that it only covered the quality and construction for interior stairs in softwood for houses.

The 1956 edition reverted back to the title Wood Stairs, and covered “interior stairs in softwood for houses, other than stairs with cut strings.”  A “Cut” or “open” string is manufactured with the upper edge cut away to the shape of the treads and risers, so that you can see their profile from the side.

The 1972 version was expressed in metric terms, in keeping with BSI’s programme of metrication at the time. 

1970 – Industrial Metal Flooring standard appears

1970 saw the publication of BS 4952 – Industrial Open Type Metal Flooring and Stair Treads.

Prepared at the request of manufacturers, it provided requirements for design, construction and testing of metal flooring panels and stair treads for buildings, ships and other installations.

BS 5395 and BS 5578– expansion of coverage

1977’s BS 5395 Code of Practice for Stairs greatly expanded the scope to include stairs and steps in all types of buildings, whereas BS 585 only covered dwellings.  It also covered a wide range of materials including steels, iron, aluminum and stone, as well as hardwood and softwood.

BS 5578 (Building Construction – Stairs) appeared in 1978 and was a replica of the ISO standard 3880.  It provided general principles for coordinating the dimensions of stairs and stair openings in building construction, and applied to all types of buildings.

Seventies Spirals

Spiral staircases were once a big hit for seventies home makeovers, although they are not so popular today!  BS 5395 was divided into three parts, with BS 5395 part 2 1984 specifically covering helical and spiral stairs.

Interestingly, the foreword pointed out that “it should be borne in mind that helical and spiral stairs are not normally permitted for use as means of escape where large numbers of persons are involved.


Wooden stairs are still covered by BS 585, which has been kept up to date with technological changes. 

In 2011, Part 4 was introduced to BS 5935 to provide a Code of practice for the design of stairs for limited access.

BS 4952 has also been expanded to cover material types, including metal open bar gratings and glass reinforced plastics.

BSI has also adopted a number of European standards on applications related to stairs, including EN 12058:2004 “Natural stone products. Slabs for floors and stairs” and EN 14843:2007, covering precast concrete stairs.

What’s available in the Knowledge Centre?

BSI’s Knowledge Centre can provide access to the withdrawn stairs standards back to the original BS 585 in 1934. Members can view withdrawn standards without charge in Chiswick, and they are available for purchase in hard copy and PDF. BSI members receive a 50% discount, free postage and can buy on account.

To find out more please contact the Knowledge Centre at:
or on +44 (0)20 8996 7004


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