Surgical services have long since identified stainless steel as the industry standard for any furniture or equipment that will be exposed to infectious materials and require a total wipe down. Since the recent pandemic, we realize that far more than just the Surgical Services can be exposed to highly contagious or infectious materials. The IPAC risks of materials once considered suitable are increasing transmission rates or H.A.I.’s (Hospital Acquired Infections).
Not All Stainless Steel Is Equal
It is essential to point out that stainless steel comes in many different grades, some of which are not void of corrosive properties. Food-grade stainless is much lower in cost (200 series) and will corrode with typical healthcare cleaning. Healthcare-grade (300 series) has more nickel in it and is what we consider the standard stainless steel material used in hospital equipment. For general use, type 304 is recommended, while areas such as pharmacies that require a more refined grain will use Type 316 (the highest price).
Although it is economically advantageous, it is not a wise idea to mix metals in the fabrication of medical equipment as some materials will react with each other. In addition, the lower grade will contaminate the higher grade with the properties of the lower grade. This is one of the reasons why you will occasionally see corrosion on 304 stainless steel.
Another reason for corrosion is that the factory building the product works in mixed metals. The equipment used to build medical equipment should only be used for stainless steel as the shavings of other materials can contaminate the stainless steel and cause rust.
Stainless Steel Compared with Porous Surfaces
Now think about the typical clinical setting and all the touchpoints it has. Stainless Steel has a unique self-healing film that makes it ideal for high-traffic areas that require total wipedown. It is also a non-porous surface.
Natural wood is a porous material that was previously used in healthcare settings, along with a varnish to seal it in. As we look at the furniture now, the varnish is worn through and exposes natural wood that will open and close with the temperature and humidity, trapping microbes in the wood.
Lamanites are still often used in healthcare and built right; they are suitable for wipedown until the first damage to the Lamanite. Once the core is exposed and is susceptible to containing microbes since the core will be chipboard of some sort.
Solid Surfaces are a more recent product that we see in healthcare, and it is similar to Lamanites in that it works well until the first bit of damage and then it becomes difficult to clean. A chip can then harbour microbes.
Fabrication and Design
Although it is tempting to find a local fabricator to build your design, much more goes into an adequately fabricated design than you may think. In Canada, there are many regulations to consider in your product design that could be why your facility fails an accreditation.
A simple example is a sink. Sinks should be integral (fully welded) rather than a drop-in as any seams risk harbouring infection. Similarly, equipment and furniture should be welded rather than bolted together to seal and easily clean all crevices.
There are too many examples to go through, but the design team must be familiar with all regulations that relate to the use of your stainless steel design. Even storage cabinets have specifications to meet that can be flagged in accreditation. It is also essential that the fabrication is done in an exclusively stainless steel factory with welding and polishing skills that understand the importance of sealed seams.
Layout and Flow
This step is foreign to any fabricator unfamiliar with what happens behind the hospital doors. It is important to understand the layout and flow of the space you are planning without question before moving ahead with the fabrication of products. This is especially true when there is the handling of sterile or biohazard materials. The layout should be free of any cross-contamination risk and should also consider the ergonomics of the person using the furniture or equipment. A bad design is tough to rectify after the space is already outfitted.
The layout should also consider efficiencies and ergonomics. The chances are that your new stainless steel furniture or equipment will outlast your employment tenure so getting it right is very important!
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