Bather safety in an eldercare environment, whether it is at home or in a specialized facility, has unique considerations a plumbing engineer or contractor must take into account.
Guidelines and codes often meet the bare minimum. We recommend going the extra mile in considering bather safety as it applies to our older population. You must also remember that people’s needs change, whether gradually over time as they age or more suddenly due to injury or illness.
Some of the most common causes of bathing accidents in eldercare that plumbers can help prevent are:
- Slips and falls, due to difficulty getting in and out of the tub/shower or slippery surfaces
- Inadequate space for a care provider to assist in bathing
- Scalding and thermal shock injuries due to difficulty controlling water temperature and accessing fixtures
- The risk of developing fatal illnesses brought on by Legionella
Yes, believe it or not, you as a contractor can play a role in reducing all of those risks.
Prevention of Injuries Due to Slip and Fall
Today we have showers and tubs that are designed in such a way to provide easy access. Despite modern tubs and showers that allow for easy entry and exit, people are still at risk for slips and falls.
You want to make sure you have adequate grab bars installed that will help maintain balance and aid in preventing falls. The Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access recommends faucet temperature controls in showers be mounted above the grab bar.
Provide Adequate Space for a Care Provider to Assist
While you may not be designing the space, you can lobby on your clients’ behalf to make sure the architects have considered this. You want to ensure the caregiver has enough space to maneuver safely. They should be able to access faucet controls and assist the bather without themselves losing balance.
Consistent and Controlled Water Temperature
A thermostatic control valve prevents dangerously high output temperature under a wide range of input, outlet, and demand variations. If there is a failure in the cold water supply for any reason, the sensor will effectively shut down the flow of hot water to prevent scalding. If a failure occurs in the hot water supply, the sensor will stop the flow of cold water to prevent thermal shock. Sudden spikes in temperature are the cause of many bathing injuries.
You need to be careful when you are spec’ing control valves. An ASSE certified thermostatic shower valve will address spikes in inlet temperature, whether hot or cold, within seconds, as confirmed by the ASSE 1016 T certification. This certification includes a 20% inlet pressure compensation test.
However, relatively few T-certified shower valves available on the market today are also ASSE 1016 P certified. Therefore, only thermostatic shower valves dual-certified ASSE 1016 T/P include the added protection against 50% changes in inlet pressure.
(Read more about the difference between pressure valves and thermostatic control valves here.)
Installation of ADA-Compliant Faucets
We often take the ability to adjust our faucet controls for granted. For many who suffer from arthritis or mobility issues, turning the faucet handle and adjusting the water temperature can be a painful or difficult process.
All faucet controls should be easy to maneuver despite a person’s strength levels or limits in their range of motion. Check to be sure the faucet you are installing provides ADA compliance throughout the entire temperature operating range.
Reduce the Risk of Legionella
Legionnaires’ disease, a type of severe pneumonia, is caused by breathing in small droplets of water that contain Legionella. One common cause of Legionella is keeping the hot water source below 140 degrees, the minimum recommended by the CDC.
Many people worried about the risk of scalding will lower the temperature of the water heater, which increases the risk of Legionella. A better solution would be to manage the water temp at the point of use with a thermostatic control valve, which can reduce the risk of scalding while keeping water hot enough to limit Legionella growth.