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Why wooden handrail is on its way out in healthcare

Handrail is an essential component of any building interior, essential for accessibility and vital for preventing trips, slips and falls, especially around stairwells.  The purpose of handrail is to keep people safe, but over the past year or so it’s become increasingly clear that handrail can also pose a risk to health.

Handrails are designed to be touched.  From hospitals and care homes to government buildings, they are handled by thousands of people each day and when a novel virus arrived on our shores, it quickly became clear that they presented a significant surface hygiene risk.

Bacteria and viruses can live on surfaces for varying amounts of time – for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, this can be several days depending on the surface and how often it is sanitized.

Pathogens live for longer on surfaces that offer them a place to hide – for instance textured or porous materials that are more difficult to disinfect thoroughly.  This is why, when it comes to handrail, smooth and non-porous materials such as vinyl, PVC and stainless steel are preferable – and why traditional wooden handrail is on its way out.

Towards better infection control 

Over the past year we’ve seen countless care homes accelerating their plans to replace wooden handrail with alternative materials as part of an overall push towards better infection control.

Wooden handrail has been popular over the last couple of decades.  Advances in technology have enabled the production of intricate profiles while steel reinforcement delivered the robustness required for demanding environments.  One of wood’s biggest plus points was its warm and luxurious appearance which served to create a less institutional aesthetic in healthcare, especially care homes.

However, even with the most robust of finishes, wooden surfaces are prone to breaking down over time – and few could withstand the level of cleaning and disinfection that’s been required over the past year.  Repeated use of cleaning products added to normal wear and tear can quickly cause damage to paint and varnish, eventually leaving the wood itself exposed – and when that happens, wooden handrails become a real breeding ground for pathogens.

So what’s the alternative?

There are lots of viable alternatives to wooden handrail, even for environments that require a softer and less clinical aesthetic.

The most obvious choice is faux wood vinyl, which delivers the appearance and warmth of wood in a non-porous material that is hardwearing and easy to keep clean.  These handrails are available in various designs, from simple grab rail styles to fully moulded bumper rail combinations.

Solid colour vinyls are also a popular option, especially for hospital settings.  Available in a range of colours, they often have a smooth or very lightly textured surface that’s ideal for high-traffic areas, and a seamless profile that’s easy to disinfect.

The latest technology in moulded handrail is anti-microbial, such as our SureContact range.  Infused with Zinc Pyrithione, these handrails offer built-in protection against germs for the life of the product, providing extra peace of mind for busy  operations and those ‘between cleans’ periods.

Finally, there’s stainless steel.  One of the strongest materials on earth, steel handrails are virtually indestructible and will last for many years.  They’re ideal for bariatric requirements due to their increased load capacity. 

If your care home is still contending with wooden handrail, it’s time for a change.  Protect against infection and invest in interiors that will stand the test of time – contact Belroc today to find out more.