Title:
Insertable step
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The present invention is directed to apparatus and methods that facilitate access to space defined at least in part by a generally vertical surface. The apparatus of the present invention includes a tread and legs, each end of each leg may be efficiently inserted into appropriately sized and shaped receiving apertures within the generally vertical. The apparatus includes safety stops that assist a person to safely step onto the tread and a face of the tread on which information may be carried.



Inventors:
O'connor, William G. (Winnetka, IL, US)
O'connor, Matthew F. (Winnetka, IL, US)
Application Number:
11/449351
Publication Date:
12/13/2007
Filing Date:
06/08/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
E04F11/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
FONSECA, JESSIE T
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Charles C. Valauskas;BANIAK PINE & GANNON (Suite 1200, 150 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL, 60201, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. A step insertable in engagement surfaces within a wall comprising: a core formed from metal in a generally U-shape; a protective material covering said or all of said core to provide opposing legs connected at a tread end of each of said opposing legs to form a tread sized and shaped such that a person may step and stand thereon; a safety stop positioned generally adjacent to said tread and parallel to a long axis of said each opposing legs, said safety stop projecting above said tread so that the person attempting to step or stand on said tread may contact said safety stop, said safety stop; including a beveled face such that said beveled face is lower toward said tread thereby directing the person where to stop or stand simply by contact with said safety stop; said tread including a generally open configuration face on which an information element may be positioned; said each of said opposing legs including insertion ends that are sized and shaped to be inserted in and engaged within the engagement surfaces for support of said step in relationship to the wall to permit travel along same.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention generally relates to apparatus and methods that facilitate access to space defined at least in part by a generally vertical surface. More specifically, the present invention is directed to apparatus that may be efficiently inserted into appropriately sized and shaped receiving apertures within the generally vertical surface so that access to the area defined at least, in part, by the vertical surface may be facilitated.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

There are many known devices and related methods by which access to areas defined by a wall or walls—such as a sewer through a manhole—may be obtained. These devices—known as anchors, steps, or rungs—in their most basic form have ends inserted into the wall and at a distance from which a tread is supported. The devices may be placed in the wall as it is being formed, such as when the wall is made from concrete. Alternatively, the devices may be fixed to the wall by inserting the ends of the devices into spaces made in the wall such as by drilling into the wall material after the wall has been formed. The device is fixed to the wall through the use of a hammer and pounding on an area or areas of the device. In any case, once fixed to the wall, the device must be able to support a user standing on the tread of the device as the user descends and/or ascends the walled area through the use of the device.

Because the devices are often used in locations that are dimly lit and/or damp, wet, or icy, many known devices include one or more features that are intended to decrease the likelihood that a person using one of these types of devices to gain access to such locations will have will not step securely onto the correct area of or slip from the rung. These safety features include one or more reflectors that are placed on or are integrated within the surface of the known rung and are intended to show the user where the step is located even under reduced light conditions. The safety features include texture or projections that are positioned on or along ends of the stepping area and which are intended to prevent the user's foot or feet from slipping from engagement with the upper surface of the rung.

Symmetrically configured devices are known. They are advantageous in that an installer need not determine which face of the device is that portion of the device on which the user is to step—that is, which way is “up”—before the installation process begins. Many other devices, however, have a generally asymmetric configuration with the device having a top surface on one portion of which the user is to stand and a bottom surface. Asymmetric known devices, however, may be disadvantageous in that, with respect to some of these devices, a user must properly identify which portion of the device is intended to form the top surface before the device is pounded into the wall. This may be difficult to accomplish efficiently when the devices are to be installed in low light conditions.

In addition to primarily safety elements, other known devices include one or more other components to facilitate the further use or improve the aesthetics of the device. Multi-component devices have greater complexity and, as a result, may be more difficult and costly to manufacture.

A demand therefore exists for a device having a simplified construction that is easy to insert in prepared apertures within a wall so a person can descend or ascend within the at least partially walled area and is generally safe to use. The present invention satisfies the demand.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention generally relates to apparatus and methods that facilitate access to space defined at least in part by a generally vertical surface. More specifically, the present invention is directed to apparatus that may be efficiently inserted into and supported from apertures within the generally vertical surface so that access to the area defined at least, in part, by the vertical surface may be facilitated.

The apparatus is a step including two legs and a tread on which a user can stand. Each of the two legs include insertion ends that are sized and shaped to be received in appropriately sized and shaped receiving apertures within the generally vertical surface for attachment of the step to the vertical surface. A tread extends between the ends of the legs opposite to the insertion ends. The step includes a front face that is of a simplified construction to permit pressure to be applied thereon, such as through the pounding on the face, in order to facilitate the installation of the step even in low light conditions. The front face having such simplified construction also permits information to be placed thereon such as on ad hoc basis. The information that may be placed on the step front face may include recommendations or safety warnings to installers. Because of the relative size of the step front face, the information that may be placed thereon may be presented in such a size or style that the information can be easily read even in low light conditions. The step includes safety stops that are intended to assist a person in placing his or her shoe or boot on the tread even when the ability to see the tread is hampered because, for example, of low light conditions or the person can't easily see the step because the angle at which the person is descending prevents the person from seeing the tread directly. The step may include engagement elements that assist a person—that is attempting to stand on or remain on the step—from slipping. Overall, the step may be of a generally simplified construction in order to lessen the difficulty and cost in manufacturing the step.

These and other aspects, features, and advantages of the present invention will become more readily apparent from the attached drawings and the detailed description of the preferred embodiments, which follow.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The preferred embodiments of the invention will be described in conjunction with the appended drawings that are provided to illustrate and not to the limit the invention, where like designations denote like elements, and in which:

FIG. 1 is a partially exploded perspective view of one embodiment of a step according to the present invention providing a simplified construction and generally uniform shape to facilitate its manufacture, insertion within a wall, and use.

FIG. 1A is a partial cross sectional view of the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 1.

FIG. 2 is a partially exploded perspective view of another embodiment of a step according to the present invention providing a simplified construction and generally uniform shape to facilitate its manufacture, insertion within a wall, and use.

FIG. 3 is a partially cutaway fragmented perspective view of an additional embodiment of a step including a palm grip portion.

DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

A step—which permits a user to descend or ascend from an area that is at least partially defined by a wall to which the step is attachable—according to the present invention is identified in the accompanying drawings as 21. For convenience of description, terms such as “upper”, “lower”, “outer”, “inner”, “horizontal”, “vertical” “outwardly”, and “inwardly” are used to refer to the step 21 in an orientation illustrated in the accompanying drawings. However, it will be understood that embodiments of the step 21 advantageously can be used in a variety of orientations, such as those in which the step 21 and/or the wall 15 in which it inserted is angled such that the step 21 and wall 15 are not in a strict vertical/horizontal or an orthogonal relationship to each other.

FIG. 1 shows one embodiment of a step 21 according to the present invention. FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a step 21 having legs 31—each extending along an axis L1 or L2—and a tread 51—that extends along an axis T generally perpendicular to the axes L1, L2. Step 21 includes a step outer surface 23. The FIG. 1 embodiment is of a generally simplified construction and configuration.

Each leg 31 of the FIG. 1 embodiment is generally identical in shape and configuration. Each leg 31 includes an insertion end 33 which is preferably sized and shaped such that each leg 31 can be securely engaged within an engagement surface 17 of the wall 15 to which the step 21 is to be attached. The engagement surface 17 of the wall 15 may be prepared in the wall 15 through a variety of methods including drilling into the wall or, when the wall is made from concrete, pouring the concrete around appropriately sized and shaped concave forms to provide the generally convex-shaped engaging surfaces 17. The insertion end 33 may include a tapered surface 34 to facilitate the secure engagement of the step 21 to the wall 15. In addition, each insertion end 33 may include one or more compaction elements 35 having a construction and formed from a material that permits the compaction element or elements 35 to deform during the insertion of the end 33 within the engagement surface 17 and/or when weight is placed on the step 21, thereby increasing the likelihood that the step 21 will be and remain securely attached to the wall 15.

FIG. 2 shows another embodiment of a step 21 according to the present invention. FIG. 2 largely includes all of the features of the FIG. 1 embodiment and features that facilitate the secure insertion within and engagement of the step 21 with the engagement surface 17. More specifically, the step 21 shown in FIG. 2 provides a portion of the step outer surface 23 along each leg 31—termed leg outer surface 23L—configured to form a gripping surface 37. Embodiments of the gripping surface 37 may be sized and shaped to facilitate manual gripping contact of the leg 31 by an adult person. Embodiments of the gripping surface 37 may be further sized and shaped to anticipate the gripping contact of the leg 31 by an adult wearing a glove. FIG. 3 shows embodiments of the gripping surface 37 that include a finger grip portion 37F and a palm grip portion 37P.

More particularly, FIG. 2 shows a finger grip portion 37F formed on the inside surface 36C of each leg 31. The finger grip portion 37F of the gripping surface 37 may extend onto the lower surface 36D of the leg 31 (not shown) to facilitate the gripping of the leg 21 such that the fingers may wrap around and make generally complete firm manual contact with the leg 31 and thereby the step 21.

The palm grip portion 37P of the gripping surface 37 is shown in FIG. 3 as ergonomically formed on the outer surface 36A of each leg 31. Palm grip portion 37P is sized and shaped to accommodate the palm of the person that is gripping the leg 21 such as during the process of holding the step 21 so that each of the insertion ends 33 of the step 21 may be easily aligned at the mouth 18 of each of the engagement surface 17 and held there while pressure is applied to the step 21—such as through hammering the step—in order to drive each end 33 into contact with the engagement surface 17. FIG. 3 shows each leg 31 having such outer surface 36A that is convex at least in part to accommodate the palm of the person that is gripping the leg—thereby forming a palm grip portion 37P—but without disrupting the general axial alignment of each leg 31 relative to tread 51 thereby generally not weakening the leg 31 and so that the amount of pressure that may be applied to the front face 53 in order to drive each of the legs 31 into the respective engagement surfaces 17 does not necessarily have to be lessened.

Tread 51 includes a front face 53 to which pressure may be applied—such as through engagement of the face 53 by a hammer—in order to attach the step 21 to the wall 15. To facilitate the installation of the step 21 with a hammer, certain embodiments of the front face 53 are of a construction so that the installer can engage generally the full expanse of the face 53 and not, for example, at the particular blow receiving portions or striking surfaces that are components of certain known footholds, anchors, or rungs. Directing the blows of a hammer at a particular part of the foothold or rung may be difficult to accomplish in the low light conditions in which such devices 21 are typically installed. Such difficulty is heightened because often the only available light is from an overhead source which may not reach the vertical surface of a device that an installer is attempting to hold in place and hammer for installation.

The embodiment of the step 21 shown in FIG. 1 and FIG. 2 includes a front face 53 that is of a generally planar configuration 54—defined for purposes of this application to be is, generally flat and without ornamentation or other features formed in the step outer surface 23—thereby permitting an installer to make generally full contact with face 53 with the head of the hammer. Such generally full contact allows more uniform pressure to be applied to the face 53, and thereby the step 21, which in turn allows the installation to be completed more efficiently with fewer blows of the hammer.

A front face 53 having a generally planar configuration 54 advantageously permits, for example, the front face also to function as a receiving area for information. Information 61 that may be received on some portion or all of the front face 53 includes recommendations or safety warnings to installers that can be easily read prior to and/or during installation of the step 21. Because of the expanse of the front face 53 that may be devoted to this task, the information may be presented in such a size that it can be easily read even in low light conditions. Such instructions may be in the form of words—that informs the installer, for example, the range of hammers (such as by weight or head construction—e.g., rubber versus steel—or design) that may or should be used to install the step 21. The instructions may include or be completely in the form of drawings, which inform the installer, for example, which portion of the front face 53 to engage with the hammer and in what order to accomplish the installation of the step. Drawings advantageously can communicate instructions to an installer universally and without regard to the language in which the manufacturer may communicate.

To facilitate the quick and efficient placement of the information 61 on the front face 53, including on an “as needed” or ad hoc basis, the information 61 may be placed on one or more information elements 65. Because of the generally planar configuration 54 of the front face 53, information elements 65 of a wide variety of sizes and shapes and constructions may be placed on the face 53. For example, one embodiment of an information element 65 is in the form of a sticker—that is, an information element 65 that may be formed from a generally light weight, thin, and inexpensive material on which information may be printed and that may be water proof or water proofed and may have a adhesive backing 67 by which the element 64 can be adhered to the front face 53 as needed. The information 61 on such information element 65 may alert the installer or installers of particular features or limitations of the step 21 such as the type of hammer to use to install the step 21 or the possible electrical conductivity of the step 21. The information 61 may be varied depending on the language or languages which the installers may speak. The information elements 65 may be reflective to light in part or whole thereby assisting those installing and/or using the step 21. Embodiments of the information elements 65 include those that may cover a large portion of the front face 51—such as the sticker-like information element 65 shown in FIG. 1 and FIG. 2—or be more limited in size and dimension and, possibly through such limitation(s), provide information 61 to the installers—such as the “bullseye” information elements 65 shown in FIG. 3 which carry as information 61, the suggestion to installers where they should direct the blows of their hammers.

The step 21 includes safety stops 71 that are intended to assist a person in placing his or her shoe or boot on the tread 51 even when the ability to see the tread is hampered because, for example, of low light conditions or because the person can't easily see the tread 51 because the angle at which the person is descending prevents the person from seeing the tread 51 directly. To assist a user in properly placing his or her shoe or boot on the tread 51, embodiments of the safety stop 71 may include a beveled face 73 that informs a user simply by contact with the safety stop 71 which way is the tread 51 and therefore which way to move his or her foot before completing the stepping motion and attempting to place weight on the foot. For purposes of this application, “beveled face” means a portion of the stop 71 that is at a generally descending angle—shown as “a” in FIG. 1, FIG. 2, and FIG. 3—relative to the most vertical portion 75 of the stop 71 and which a user trying to descend on the step 21 may come into preliminary contact with his or her shoe or boot.

The embodiment of the safety stop 71 shown in the FIG. 1, FIG. 2, and FIG. 3 embodiment includes an inward portion 77 of the safety stop 71—positioned inward from the plane “P” along which the outer surface 36A of each leg 31 runs—and an outward portion 79—positioned outward from the plane along which the outer surface 36A of each leg 31 runs. A safety stop 71 having such an inward portion 77 and outward portion 79 has added strength and is less likely to bend, deflect, or break off than if the step was positioned wholly outward the plane of the surface 36A of each leg 31. The inward portion 77 and outward portion 79 and plane “P” are better illustrated in FIG. 1A.

Step 21 may be made of a variety of constructions and materials that permit the step 21 to installed by placing pressure of the front face 53—such as by pounding with a hammer on the front face 53—such that insertion ends 33 of the step are received in and generally fixed within the engagement surfaces 17 of the wall 15 to which the step 21 is to be attached. For example, the step 21 may be formed from a metal or a metal alloy—identified as metal for purposes of this application—configured such as in a general “U” shape to form a core 20 and on which other material, termed “protective” material for purposes of this application—such as a material that can prevent the oxidation of the core 20 when it is formed from a metal or alloy, or to increase the safety of the step 21, such as to lessen its conductivity or prevent slipping, or improve gripping of it—may be placed to form a layer 22, the outer portion of which forms the outer surface 23. Suitable material from which the layer 22 may be formed include polypropylene or other well known plastic material or other material that can be easily shaped, extruded, or machined to provide the surface features of the step 21.

The step 21 may include engagement elements 81 that assist a person that is attempting to stand on or remain on the step 21 from slipping. FIG. 1 shows an embodiment of step 21 having leg engagement elements 83 offset from each other along an upper surface 29 of leg 31. The embodiment of the step 21 shown in FIG. 1 and FIG. 2 also includes tread engagement elements 85 that further assist in allowing a user to maintain his or her footing while in contact with the step 21. One or more of the engagement elements may be a feature of additional embodiments of the step 21 including the embodiment shown in FIG. 2.





 
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