Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products

Volume 44,  Issue 6                                        July/August  2005

     The Next Step
         SMA Shares Information

An Emphasis on Codes and Standards
Association Focuses on Actions to Strengthen Stair Industry
by David Cooper

The Stairway Manufacturers Association (SMA), unlike many trade organizations, places emphasis on the actions of all its members in a program oriented to strengthen the industry. Members are asked to join for what they can bring to the table in contributions for the greater good, rather than being sold on what they can extract from the organization in terms of personal and corporate benefits. As an SMA member you are required to perform and operate within a code of ethics that strengthens the organization and demonstrates professional conduct in providing stair products and services to the public.

In addition, members throughout the United States, Canada and several countries abroad are asked to work together to focus on the mission of the SMA. 

The History of Stair Building
Founded in 1988, the SMA has become a dynamic organization evolving to meet its goals to provide for stair safety while remaining in tune to the aesthetic values essential to the design of the staircase as a fundamental element of the built environment. The history of beautiful staircases as a functional focal element of architecture has for millennia shaped the foundation of the publicís expectations and our dedication to the craft.

The ancient art of stairbuilding began with the primordial understanding of the need to make efficient transitions from one elevation to the next and the familiar associations man has equated with these transitions is embedded in the craft. Gracefully uniform and flowing designs lead one to safely anticipate and associate the autonomic biometrics required to ascend or descend and facilitate the communication of persons and objects in real time and space. 

Stair building is not an ethereal art form, but rather reduced to its basic components of rise and run. It is rooted in the mathematics and physics of nature that man has evolved to understand. The geometry of stairbuilding is unique in that it is proportioned to human ergonomics in a way that must remain common to all stairways, yet oriented to the intended use of the structures in which they are built. Stairs must provide for safe, expedient and compliant use on a daily basis. Even buildings that are served by elevators must rely on stairways designed for emergency egress. The stairway is an essential element of transport that extends to the architecture of all cultures and human habitats.

Studies Help Understand Stairway Use
Dedicated to the appreciation of these fundamental aspects, SMA members practice their craft and support the development of building codes that promote safety. They document the knowledge and experience of time-tested design principles that have brought the craft to its present state. But we are aware that change is all encompassing and human anthropometrics as well as the need for even more efficient and safer modes of transport have evolved too. The SMA has supported studies relevant to todayís use of stairways and the anthropometrics of current populations. The SMA funded the first dynamic studies of humans in actual staircase fall scenarios and scientifically correlated the results across the population accounting for variations of height, age, sex, weight, extremities and hand size. From one such study, the SMA scientifically developed new codes for handrail graspability and continues this work today.

Our interest in scientific studies counters those predisposed to represent building code changes by conjecture or simple associations that often result in unfounded dispositions of what should or should not occur in the built environment. 

The SMAís efforts in the arenas of code development are based on facts specific to scientific results. These, in turn, lead to the necessary reforms and this approach has enriched the credibility of the organization and our members. Our own studies caused the redesign of many once common rail profiles and retooling of many former industry standards to provide for better graspability and at the same time disproved the myth that wider profiled rails were not as effective as smaller round ones in generating the forces to arrest a fall.

The SMAís chartered functions are to serve as a trade association to the stairway industry and to provide for building code and standard development. The SMA fulfills this role by actively participating in the development, promotion, and adoption of one national, model building code as developed by the International Code Council (ICC). The ICC was formed from the merger of three separate and distinct model-code organizations with the familiar acronyms of BOCA, ICBO and SBCCI. The SMA also serves as a member of the ANSI 117.1 Standard for Accessible and Useable Buildings and Facilities committee and develops the SMA Quality Standards for the specification and manufacture of stairways and stair components.

SMA Membership
Our membership takes its responsibilities to the public seriously and further serves to educate on topics such as safety, aesthetic design considerations and code interpretation through presentations and workshops. The SMA publishes the highly acclaimed visual interpretations of the International Residential Code now utilized throughout the country as an aid in teaching the use of the code to building officials, contractors, architects, engineers, and design professionals. It is our intent to work with members and local organizations to provide visual interpretations that will illustrate the code as adopted by each state. Visual interpretations may be downloaded directly at no cost from the website or purchased at the cost of printing and shipping from the SMA.

The SMA and its dedicated members are changing the built environment through conscientious efforts to provide: empirical evidence for improvements, standards of quality and ethics of professional conduct. If you feel your organization would like to become involved visit our website at or to apply for membership, call our office at 877/500-5759. 

David Cooper is the SMA code development representative.


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