Falls are a serious safety risk for anyone, but they can be especially dangerous for seniors and people with mobility issues. Bathrooms pose special risks because tile or wood flooring often could cause slips or falls.
In Canada, falls represent 20-30% of all reported injuries among older people and remain one of the leading causes of hospitalization among seniors.
Installing grab bars, handrails, and safety poles in the right places is one of the simplest, most inexpensive, and most effective solutions to making our homes and public spaces safer for everyone.
If you rely on standard towel bars, bathroom shelves, or other objects that are commonly (and inappropriately) used for balance and support, be aware that they are not designed to support human weight. They can break easily and lead to injury.
Grab bars, handrails, and safety poles are tools that can help you stay on your feet and move around safely. These devices help prevent slipping and are a must-have in all kinds of establishments.
We will go through the basics of grab bars, handrails, and safety poles, how to choose the ones suitable for your unique needs, and the best places to install them.
Grab bar, handrail, or safety pole- how are they different from one another?
Grab bars, handrails, and safety poles are safety devices that support balance and provide additional measures against accidental slips and falls. While they pretty much serve the same function, there are slight differences between them. Let’s take a look.
A grab bar is a graspable bar attached to the wall in a shower or near a bathtub as an assistance to a bather in maintaining balance, lessening fatigue while standing, and getting in and out of the shower or bath safely.
The toilet safety rail, advantage rail, and tub clamp rail are also classified under safety poles and handrails in our catalog- and similar to other grab bars and safety poles, also provide much-needed support in key locations in your space.
Considerations in choosing the right products for your needs
In choosing the right safety devices for you and your household, you should primarily consider two things: compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines and the specific needs you need these devices to address.
Primarily, you want to make sure that the grab bar, handrail, or safety pole you choose will support all the weight it will need to support.
According to the ADA, the attachment must not rotate, be free of any sharp or abrasive materials, and be able to withstand 250 pounds of strain.
If the user weighs more than 250 pounds, there are specialized grab bars that can safely support heavier weights up to 500 pounds, such as the Grabcessories Curved, Arched, or Straight Grab Bars, and the Healthcraft Invisia and Plus lines.
As far as length is concerned, you want to make sure your grab bars or handrails aren’t too short, as they will not offer a large enough target to grab onto in the event of a fall.
Anything 18 inches or more is a good length for a grab bar and should provide plenty of area for the user to firmly grip onto.
Handrails should be long enough to safely support the user’s weight up and down the stairs, or across the room.
As per ADA standards, handrails at the bottom of stairs must slope for at least one tread’s width after the bottom riser nosing and continue horizontally for at least another 12 inches.
A circular grab bar should be 1¼ to 2 inches in diameter. The user should try out these recommended sizes and go with whichever they can grip best. Bars that are not circular have to have a cross-section of 2 inches and a radius around the bar of 4 to 4.8 inches.
ADA standards require the gripping surface of a handrail to have a diameter of 1 ¼ to 1 ½ inches. Handrails with a circular cross-section must have an outside diameter between 1 ¼ and 2 inches. Non-circular handrail gripping surfaces shall have a maximum cross-sectional dimension of 2 ¼ inches and a perimeter dimension ranging from 4 inches to 6 ¼ inches.
There should be a 1⅜ to 1⅝ inches (35 to 45 mm) gap between the bar and the wall. Any larger and there is a safety concern that the user’s arm could become wedged between the bar and the wall if they lose their grip.
Grab bars cannot rotate in their fittings since doing so would make them harder to use as supports and they cannot take up more area on the floor than is necessary. The bars and everything around them must also have rounded edges without any sharp or abrasive edges.
Handrail gripping surfaces must be continuous and unbroken by newel posts, other building materials, or impediments.
There must be a clearance of at least 1 ½ inches between the wall and the handrail.
Grab bars, handrails, and safety poles must include a non-slip surface.
There are also a variety of finishes available for users who want to avoid making their home look like a hospital or institution.
As grab bars are usually placed in the bathroom, stainless steel is highly recommended for those who want to avoid any type of rusting or corrosion. However, users can also choose from decorative finishes such as chrome, brass, bronze, or different powder-coated colors to match the color scheme in their bathroom. If you’re using a material besides stainless steel in the shower, try to find a grab bar that is rust-proof.
Arthritic fingers might be extra sensitive to cold surfaces, and vinyl-coated bars would be a good option, as they feel warm and soft to the touch.
Handrails can be made from different materials such as wood, metal, aluminum, resin, steel, etc. The most important thing to consider when choosing its finishing material is it must enhance safety rather than compromise it. A slippery or very abrasive finish should be avoided, especially where a potentially strong hand grip would be anticipated.
Aside from being compliant with ADA standards, keep in mind to choose grab bars, handrails, and safety poles which are customizable to your living space.
Choosing industry-standard safety devices that are adjustable/customizable and multi-functional (for example, multi-tiered handrails and safety poles with multiple bars to accommodate different user heights) can help in saving a lot of space in your home.
Where to place grab bars, handrails, and safety poles
The best thing to do when deciding where to put grab bars, handrails, and safety poles is to consult with an occupational therapist or a home accessibility specialist. They know where the user will need the most assistance and can address any additional safety hazards you may not think of.
The most common place to install a grab bar is in the shower or tub area.
If you’re only going to buy one grab bar, the best area to install it is vertically along the tub or shower’s edge. This will help the user get in and out of the tub or shower safely and easily.
Another good spot is horizontally along the shower/tub’s wall. Some people prefer to install this second bar on an angle, but unless it has a slip-resistant finish, the user’s hand could slip down the angle of the bar in wet conditions.
It’s also a good idea to install grab bars either in front of or beside the toilet. That way, users who are sitting down or standing up can get a little extra support.
It is recommended to have several grab bars, safety poles, and rails in your bathroom for the ultimate bathroom safety.
Handrails are usually installed along one or both sides of a stairway – preferably both sides for added safety. But don’t let this limit you! They can be placed anywhere where additional support is needed.
Handrails can also be placed along the length of long hallways to provide additional support for the elderly, people with limited mobility, or injured persons.
It is also advisable to install handrails on one or both sides of wheelchair access ramps for added safety for all users.
Safety poles are a great choice if you are having difficulty locating a place in your home where you can install grab bars without damaging the instructional integrity of your walls.
Safety poles can pretty much be installed anywhere in your house, particularly in places where you or a loved one might need extra support when standing up, sitting down, or moving about.
Remember: your home should be a safe space. You have to make sure that your loved ones are protected and can move around easily and safely in their own home.
A home with sufficient grab bars, handrails, safety poles, and other types of dependable equipment can provide the necessary support to make day-to-day living safer, easier, more comfortable, and more enjoyable. Best of all, they are affordable, do not require a lot of space, and can be installed quickly with minimal disruption in your home.
Hope we were able to provide you with the information you need to know your options for grab bars, handrails, and safety poles. Safety cannot wait– Get some installed ASAP!
Our Home2stay experts can tailor a plan to fit your specific needs, within your budget.
Mia Chua is an offshore team member of Home2stay, managing marketing, content creation and assisting with overall operations. Accessibility and inclusivity are global issues, and she has big dreams to someday bring what she learns from Home2stay to influence positive changes to her own country across the globe.
Prior to joining Home2stay, she worked in operations and marketing in the real estate and fast-moving consumer goods industries.
Her interests include picking up new skills, cooking and baking, health and wellness, technology and social issues.