Take to the floor

Exploring what influences designers and specifiers when it comes to their choice of floor coverings for UK healthcare facilities

Colour was key for Forbo when revamping the children’s ward at Glan Clwyd Hospital in North Wales

Millions of people visit hospitals every day and that has a big impact on facilities. Nowhere is this more evident than on the floors. Here, we look at what influences designers and specifiers when it comes to their choice of floor coverings

Sustainable, durable, hygienic, easy to clean, safe, cost-effective, and aesthetically pleasing.

These are the all important considerations for estates and facilities managers when choosing flooring solutions for healthcare buildings.

As surfaces that will be walked on millions of times a day, as well as having to withstand trolleys, wheelchairs and other equipment, choosing the correct type of flooring for medical centres is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Whether hard or soft floor coverings, or the much more rarely used carpeting, which is not used in clinical areas, first and foremost the surfaces need to be long-lasting.

Speaking to bbh, Graham Stott, regional manager of flooring manufacturer, Mapei, said: “The phrase that comes into play a lot in the healthcare marketplace is ‘fit for purpose’. You can’t have floor surfaces that will easily stain or crack, so they need to be hard-wearing and durable.”

Guidance on the subject is provided in the form of ‘HBN-00-10. Part A’ in England and Wales and ‘Scottish Health Technical Memorandum 61’ in Scotland. Both of these lay out the basic requirements for flooring materials.

Simplicity is key

The market has responded with flooring ranges that are not only durable but, critically, are easy to maintain.

“Health trusts nowadays are looking for flooring systems that are simple to work with and that will last them for at least 10 years,” says John Whitmore of Tarkett.

“There are all sorts of different ranges available, but the common denominator is always ease of maintenance.”

Maintenance is critically important in the prevention and control of infection, avoiding cracks and tears in finishes where dirt can build up. Good maintenance can also aid cleaning and can increase the life-cycle cost of materials.

“HBN-00-10 Part A states: “Materials and finishes are to be selected to minimise maintenance and be compatible with their intended function and lifespan/duration of use.”

The Scottish document adds: “Project teams must ensure that relevant infection control personnel and healthcare cleaning professionals are involved in the development of projects at all stages and that they contribute to the risk assessment process for flooring selection.” A risk assessment will usually form the basis of all decisions on the type of flooring eventually chosen, whether it be a smooth finish or safety flooring for areas where there may be a risk of slipping.

Alan Sutherland, a sales consultant at Altro, said: “The market is definitely changing and a lot more consideration goes into which flooring products healthcare organisations will choose. Risk assessment is crucial. Wherever there is a risk of slips or falls then safety flooring will usually be specified.”

40 different colours of Altro flooring were used at the Ferndene Children and Young People’s Centre in Northumberland

Beating the bugs

While there are a number of flooring ranges that incorporate bug-busting technology, HBN-00-10. Part A warns: “While antimicrobial-impregnated products and anti-microbial materials are available there are, at present, no definitive data to support their efficacy in reducing healthcare associated infection.”

There is no doubt, however, that the easier floors are to keep clean, the lower the risk of germs spreading.

Sutherland said: “Hospitals need floors where there are no cracks, joins or edges. With the use of alcohol hand gels, manufacturers have also had to look at coatings that will not be affected by alcohol hand gels. Often in hospitals you see that the flooring under the hand gel dispensers is affected and any deterioration can mean contamination is more likely to cause the flooring to suffer further damage.”

But this doesn’t mean flooring has to look institutional. As well as being hard-wearing, hygienic, easy to clean and slip resistant, it has to look nice – and all for a cost that is within the health service’s dwindling budget.

With this in mind there are a number of ranges that offer colour or printed designs, aiding wayfinding and creating more relaxing patient environments.

Whitmore said: “Floors must match the specific, varied needs of each part of the building and achieve a harmonious transition between them in terms of functionality and design features.

“Strict compliance with hygiene and air quality standards, static control and resistance to heavy traffic, water and chemicals must be reconciled with acoustic characteristics, work comfort and ease of maintenance.

“Flooring designs must also provide stimulating environments that promote healing.”

One place where this approach is evident is at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Michigan. There Tarkett’s coloured printed flooring has been used to aid orientation and to make the unit look less clinical.

The designer behind the project, Carly Visser, said: “We wanted to think outside the box and create a unique children’s space that hadn’t been done in the past. Having unique materials and textures was important and using speckled patterns in our custom colours was a subtle way to make a big impact.”

Coloured printed flooring at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Michigan aides orientation makes the unit look less clinical

Coming alive with colour

The introduction of colour was also key when revamping the children’s ward at Glan Clwyd Hospital in North Wales.

The unit utilises Forbo Flooring Systems’ vinyl covering in an unusual combination of lime green, brown and off-white co-ordinated with graphics of hills and mountains on the walls.

A spokesman at the hospital said: “The use of bright colour brings the area to life, creating a happy environment for the children.”

Altro has made a similar impact using its flooring at the award-winning Ferndene Children and Young People’s Centre in Northumberland. The 6,000sq m project used Altro Suprema II safety flooring in ward kitchens and back of house; while smooth flooring was used with Everlay B underlay in the secure environments, providing an acoustic, cushioned underlay to reduce noise.

A total of 40 different colours were specified to create different moods in different areas.

Whitmore said: “There is a place for all types of floor covering and definitely estates and facilities managers want a good choice of colours and material. Aesthetics and design is important.”

Another factor more recently steering procurement decisions is sustainability. With the NHS having to reduce its carbon footprint by 80% by 2050, trusts have to consider all purchases much more carefully.

Sutherland explains: “The market has definitely changed. Flooring has to be BREEAM A+ rated and it has to be sustainable and contain recycled content before trusts will even talk to you.

“Increasingly manufacturers have to sell whole fit for purpose flooring solutions, rather than products.”

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