With both hygiene and affordability at a premium, the healthcare sector has traditionally offered plenty of specification problems. Barbour Index and Scott Brownrigg list some solutions

The healthcare sector, whether NHS or private, has several special requirements that the specifier should be aware of. Finishes and fittings must be durable, must provide good value for money, and must be easy to clean and maintain. Indeed, maintenance and cleaning are probably the two key areas that the specifier can have a lasting effect. However, this is often a tall order and will stretch the abilities of specifiers.

1 - Client requirements

Specifiers have to meet NHS trust standards. The constraints that these impose have caused design quality to suffer in the past but recent projects have shown aesthetic improvements. Specifiers also need to be clear about other criteria they are working to, such as special requirements from the trust or other client bodies, as often the specifier will be working for a consortium. For example, some clients are very specific about the types, materials or sourcing of fixtures, fittings and equipment.

By collecting information from a number of sources, ensuring you understand the client’s requirements, and being clear of what is required for both the construction phase and beyond, the building will be a safe and healthy environment for many years.

2 - Cleaning

The need for easy cleaning and low maintenance is paramount, so carefully consider how materials will fit together. It is also important that cleaning methods are clearly defined for the users – often recommendations for cleaning are not passed on.

This can lead to cleaning firms basing quotes on the wrong parameters, thereby degrading the material’s performance and possibly shortening its design life. Floors are a particularly good example of this problem, with cleaning methods often inappropriate for the material used. For example, shiny floors don’t necessarily equate with cleanliness and can be dangerous. Rubber is a good example: it should be cleaned only using soap and detergent, and never buffed up, so it always maintains its matt appearance. Surface roughness of the floor is very important as it reduces the risk of people slipping. See the Health and Safety Executive paper on slips and trips for further explanation of the benefits of correct specification.

3 - Protection

Protection for doors, corridors and service areas is essential, and careful assessment of the likely causes of damage is needed prior to choosing the protection system. Too often, protection is badly positioned, lacks strength or spoils the aesthetics of the interior. However, solutions can be simple. For example, walls can be protected from damage by trolleys while maintaining a good appearance by providing crash rails at floor level.

Protective transparent finishes are recommended over surface treatments, particularly in high-wear areas where protection is a problem, such as door architraves. Ensure that you have questioned suppliers in detail about these products and, if at all possible, conduct a site visit to see a number of examples that have experienced many years of use. This can be invaluable to the specifier as it soon becomes obvious if products or details have stood the test of time.

All junctions and corners should be completely sealed and finished without any rough surfaces to avoid dirt traps and provide an easily cleaned surface. Consider junctions of walls with ceilings and windows – it should be possible to ensure that a seamless junction is created that is durable and easy to clean. Also consider any junctions with services fittings and fixtures, ensuring again that a good seal is specified.

4 - Doors

Doors come in for high levels of wear and tear, both in terms of their open-close cycles and surface battering. They need to perform well for many years, with fire or air seals also being maintained. In recent years, the emergence of many fully sealed doorsets with pre-engineered ironmongery has assisted in ensuring that doors have long and trouble-free lives. The specifier should try to visualise the doorset after several years of hard work and cursory cleaning.

5 - Ironmongery

Ironmongery, in particular, should be chosen very carefully. Specify the correct duty, discuss the life and number of cycles of operation with the prospective manufacturers and get a real idea of the use that the hardware will be put to. Consider the fixing: many installations are spoilt be either poor installation or poorly designed, exposed fixings. Factory pre-installed or prefitted hardware is preferable.

6 - Disability Discrimination Act

It may seem obvious, but don’t forget the DDA and ensure that you are specifying appropriately. After the initial access assessment, consider the colour contrast between key items, such as walls and light switches, and positioning of materials. Consider the lighting and the arrangement of warning colours, particularly in circulation areas and on stairways.

7 - Services

Most healthcare buildings are highly serviced. The specifier needs to be aware that all finishes and fittings need to integrate with the building’s systems. A problem that often arises is obtaining clear, detailed information at the time the building is being detailed. However, if you are aware of a concentration of services equipment in one place, try and ensure it is fitted out and integrated properly with the rest of the building without any on-site botching. As a bare minimum, ensure that the finishes are capable of taking the fixings, back boxes and face plates so the quality of the finish is maintained and is subsequently easy to clean.

Subject guides similar to this are available from Barbour Index as part of its Construction Expert and Specification Expert services.

For further information contact Barbour Index on 01344-899280 or visit www.barbour-index.co.uk