I recently had to install grab rails in a holiday villa just outside Listowel, North Co. Kerry, Ireland. The composition is 6 large bedrooms all with bathrooms en-suite with one of those en-suite bathrooms already fully accessible for disabled and other impaired people. It includes the usual kit such as various handrails vertical, horizontal and fold down, contrasting colours, wet room floor design, seats etc. Also in the villa is 1 large bathroom unattached to the other bedrooms. As a request from an An Bord Failte (Tourism Bord Ireland) Inspector previously it was recomended to install grab rails in the 5 standard en-suite shower cubicles due to their large nature, to help occupants, particularly elderly to manoeuvre more securely in the shower cubicle. I have shown a few pictures of the shower areas with associated body spray controls below with some pictures further below showing them with the new grab rails. One grabrail for each shower unit was purchased by the owner, ready to be installed.
I have looked through various Irish and British Reg’s and there doesnt seem to be clear regulations or guidelines regarding positions or requirements for such grab rails in a public or semi private nature, excluding of course those already published regarding ‘fully accessible‘ shower areas for all including wheelchair users. I have considered the recomended positions in BS 8300: 2009, Universal and Adaptable Design for Lifetime Homes (Galway Rural Development Co. Ltd, approx 2002), Building for Everyone (NDA, 2002, Ireland), Irish Technical Guidance Document Part M (Dept of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government, 2000, Ireland) and Approved Document Part M (NBS, 2004, UK) and other publications which guide on various related items such as placement of vertical rails either side of a wash basin miror in an ambulant disabled compartment, heights for vertical and horizontal rails in ambulant disabled WC compartments for WC use, and also heights and positions of rails in wheelchair accessible shower areas and baths in the various public and semi- private accomodations. The closest situation I can see to my own one is probably the fully accessible shower unit grab rails as outlined in some of those publications mentioned above in particular Building for Everyone on P130 with associated diagrams, except for catering for wheelchair use.
I have to wonder, the use of grab rails in standard shower cubicles and their positioning seem like an increasingly required design consideration for shower areas in various building types whether its designing for holiday visitors, public accessibility or even one’s own private home, particularly considering the design requirements regarding various disabled persons needs and future proofing concepts for the elderly or impaired. I really did think I would come across more guidelines other than a sense of ‘please provide rails for people getting up and down from toilets and baths, or for wheelchair users getting onto a shower seat in a fully accessible shower area’. What if you dont need or want a seat, or a fully accessible bathroom suite with associated expenses? Considering the amount of shower cubicles out there (excluding combinded bath /shower units) I think someone should probably analyse the use and positioning of rails in a standard shower cubicle in a home, apartment or public situation. And maybe also consider how many cases have arisen of people injuring themselves from hitting rails that have been poorly placed or aligned. Just a thought really!
Since I havent really come across it yet I will do my own analysis! If anyone has further thoughts or ideas feel free to throw your hat into the ring or tell me I’m being too fussy about placement!
Analysis & Discussion:
Most of the shower units in this particular house were the same type of rectangular form except one which due to the swing of the adjacent bathroom door needed to be either narrower or a different design, so a corner shower unit was installed instead, allowing the door to swing back better. In the various shower units there were 6 main design considerations as I see it for different positions of a potential grab rail.
- Regarding a horizontal rail, since there was no bath, an occupant would not be sitting down or needing to sit down (correct me if I have overlooked a particular use where you would need to sit in the shower tray!), and the purpose of the rail would be to stop one falling, rather than allow a fall and only aid with getting up from that. Considering how a person could break a limb when falling it would be easier I figured, to shout, stay put, or just crawl out of the shower tray rather than try to get up and stand again. SO… the rail would be used while still standing and leaning most likely.
- If a person was standing, and then slipped, there is a possibility of falling down and hitting a head on a horizontal rail more so than if one was lying in a bath, and slipped sideways while trying to grab a horizontal rail. A vertical rail for someone standing, would take up less horizontal space and I would think reduce this risk of coming into contact if falling down.
- Most people would use the rail to either lean against and hold, or help with getting in and out of the shower, than trying to lift themselves up for some reason (leaning against a rail to access a body part or position for washing for example). In getting into the shower cubicle and getting out would it be better to try to position the rail far side of the shower head or the near side to the glass folding doors as this would be closer to the point of access and would improve reachability when getting into the shower. (I considered the near side but the position of the shower body spray nozzles and controls didn’t allow this to be a position). As one opens the folding glass doors and steps into the shower I was also conscious of the distance one would need to step into the tray to reach the rail without the risk of slipping as they reach for it.
- Should the rail be on the same plane as the shower head and its controls, or the adjacent wall side? To keep the occupants focus on the same plane it would seem to make sense to put rail on shower head and controls plane so as not to distract attention onto other surfaces (or would it be better to provide the rail on the adjacent plane? Any thoughts on this??) More surfaces that have equipment on them (including nozzles, spray heads, controls etc) may provide better overall stability but these other items will surely not provide the same weight limit thresholds as each other, thereby actually reducing overall safety, and increasing a risk of fall if an appliance breaks under strain if grabbed hard?
- If the rail was on the adjacent wall, particularly in the corner unit this would seem to hinder turning motions and maneouverability within the shower cubicle. It would not be nice to keep hitting your elbow off the rail as you turn or try to raise your arms to lather in the shampoo to your head!
With all these in mind I decided to go with a vertical rail rather than a horizontal rail and positioned it on the shower head/controls wall, on the far side of this wall from the folding doors, at 160mm from adjacent wall so that hands would reach around it easier and not knock against the adjacent wall (One shower rail was 175mm from the wall due to the grout line there) while also far enough from the controls and other nozzles so as not to hinder use of these or create the possibility of jamming the hands between the rail and nozzles. It would also avoid screwing into grout lines on the ceramic tiles. These particular tiles couldn’t be replaced in the same style so care was to be taken regarding placement of rail holes and operation of drilling and screwing through these tiles! More on that below. Height-wise, I positioned the mid centres of the rails approx 1150mm from the shower tray lip height. 600mm long rails were used, this gave a bottom screw position of 855mm from the base for the lower bracket of the rail, taking into account grout lines also. This I figured would just be low enough for someone to hang from to get up from a fall and high enought to lean against while using shower head and controls, and appropriate height for getting in and out of the shower area while also being reasonable distance from cubicle doors for reachability in and out of the shower area. Below are some pictures to show the final positions.
The smaller nature of the corner unit allowed for the use of a shorter rail only 300mm long. I positioned it at the same height from the shower tray base to the bottom screw at 855mm but had debated in my head if I should have placed it at the same top bracket height rather than the same bottom bracket height. Considering the pattern of tiles, aesthetics, position of nozzles and reachability from outside the cubicle doors it was decided to align it at the lower fixing height than the top one. Picture below.
This is how I decided to place these rails. I would love to hear if I missed other concerns if anyone sees them!
Regarding fixing the screws I went and used appropriate screws and plugs (7mm, although no wings or edges on the plugs I got in the Hardware place, should this be important or not in such a rail fixing through tile and masonry? Or is it just the outward pressure itself that is enough to support in this rail fixing situation?) I used an 8mm drill bit for masonry but didn’t have a proper ceramic tile bit so I had to use a smaller masonry bit (4.5mm) to make a small point mark in the tile, to get a grip for using the larger masonry bit. Also covered the marks before drilling with two layers of good masking tape to provide grip and help prevent tile from excessive cracking and marks. It worked very well I must say, no marks or any cracks other than the hole that was intended.
I just think that there should be some more proactive regs regarding placing similar rails as I’m sure they are becoming more needed and/or popular in various uses and are quite cheap considering how useful they can be, (purchased 600mm long rail for €28 each and the 300mm rail for €20, all in nice chrome finishes, still providing contrasts with the surrounding walls but maintaining a nicer feel and the grip seems quite good on them)
If anyone knows about impending reg’s or other guidelines regarding these kind of rails I’d love to know, just out of curiosity!