Grab bars are safety devices designed to enable a person to maintain balance, lessen fatigue while standing, hold some of their weight while maneuvering, or have something to grab onto in case of a slip or fall. A caregiver may use a grab bar to assist with transferring a patient from one place to another. A worker may use a grab bar to hold on to as he or she climbs, or in case of a fall.
Grab bars must bear high loads and sudden impacts, and most jurisdictions have building regulations specifying what loads they must bear. They are generally mounted to masonry walls or to the studs of stud walls (which may need to be specially strengthened). They can be mounted through drywall into a strong wooden wall stud or other structural member, but not mounted only on the drywall, as it will not bear the users' weight.
Grab bars are made of metal, plastic, fiberglass, and composites. For wet areas such as bathrooms, the material must be waterproof. Stainless steel, nylon-coated mild steel, epoxy-coated aluminum, ABS plastic, and even vinyl-coated metal and plastic.
Grab bars increase accessibility and safety for people with a variety of disabilities or mobility difficulties. Although they are most commonly seen in public handicapped toilet stalls, grab bars are also used in private homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, and nursing homes. Grab bars are most commonly installed next to a toilet or in a shower or bath enclosure.
Some grab bars also have a light feature and double as a night light offering up a little more safety at night when using the bathroom.
- Grab bars next to a toilet help people using a wheelchair transfer to the toilet seat and back to the wheelchair. They also assist people who have difficulty sitting down, have balance problems while seated or need help rising from a seated position.
- Used in a shower or bathtub, grab bars help to maintain balance while standing or maneuvering, assist in transferring into and out of the enclosure, and generally help to mitigate slips and falls.
- Floor to ceiling grab bars, or security poles, can be used in the bedroom to help one get out of bed or get up from a chair, or to help caregivers by assisting in transfers.
Grab bars are often used in conjunction with other medical devices to increase safety. For example, a grab bar added to a shower is frequently used with a shower chair and hand held shower head. Grab bars installed by a doorway are usually added near a railing. In addition, grab bars can be placed on any wall where extra support is needed even if it is not the "usual place" they are used.
Grab bars can be installed in different positions:
- Vertical grab bars may help with balance while standing.
- Horizontal grab bars provide assistance when sitting or rising, or to grab onto in case of a slip or fall.
- Some grab bars can be installed at an angle, depending on the needs of the user and the positioning. Grab bars installed horizontally offer up the greatest safety and care should be taken when installing them on the angle as this contrary to the ADA Guidelines. Often this angled installation is easier for people pulling themselves up from a seated position.
There are many considerations when deciding which grab bar to use and how best to install it. Properly securing a grab bar is important so that it doesn't pull out of the wall when pressure is applied to it. Each installation should be properly secured into wall blocking or studs to provide the best support. If no studs are available, specialized mollies can be used to spread out grab forces across a wider area of the wall.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG) defines requirements for installing grab bars in public bathing and toileting facilities. The guidelines are supported by substantial research regarding the best placement of grab bars.
The following is a subset of ADA grab bar guidelines:
- The diameter of grab bars should be 1¼ to 1½ inch (32–38 mm) (or the shape shall provide an equivalent gripping surface)
- There shall be a 1½ inch (38 mm) clearance from the wall.
- Grab bars should not rotate in their fittings.
- The required mounting height is universally 33 to 36 inches (840–910 mm) from top of gripping surface of the grab bar to the finish floor. DOJ 2010 ADA standards 609.4.
- ADA-style grab bars and their mounting devices should withstand more than 250 pounds (1112 N) of force.
- In public toilet stalls, side grab bars must be a minimum of 42 inches long and mounted 12 inches from the rear wall, and rear grab bars must be a minimum of 36 inches long and mounted a maximum of 6 inches from the side wall.
While the ADA guidelines provide specifics on the placement of grab bars in public locations, they do not require a specific style. The British Doc M regulations specify a minimum contrast between bars and background. Many public facilities opt for the cheapest grab bars, which usually have an institutional look. However, grab bars are actually available in many styles, finishes and colors. Manufacturers have begun to understand the need to blend in with home decor, offering grab bars that have style and pizazz. For the home, grab bars do not need to be ADA compliant, but those guidelines should be considered. In addition to straight grab bars, there are fold-out bars, those that clamp onto the side of the bathtub, L-shaped, U-shaped and corner grab bars. Grab bars are also made with built in LED lighting and can come in many different colours.
In industry and construction
Grab bars in industry and construction are found on equipment or above fixed ladders where footholds exist but other handholds are lacking. They may be positioned horizontally, vertically, or at an angle.
When using grab bars as safety devices in order to prevent falls, your best choice would be a horizontal bar. Scientific research has found that gripping strength is far greater using a horizontal bar than a vertical bar in a fall situation. This makes horizontal grab bars the safest choice.
Grab bars were required on U.S. railroad cars by the Railroad Safety Appliance Act of 1893. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines describe the requirements for grab bar clearance, diameter and spacing on fixed ladders. These regulations state that the clearance in the back of grab bars must be at least 4 inches, the diameter similar to the ladder rungs and, when horizontal, grab bars must be spaced by a continuation of the rung spacing. In 2008-2009 alone, the USDOL Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 241 casualties from ladder falls.
- "ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG)". U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board). 9/1/2002. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2011. Check date values in:
- "Research". United States Access Board. Archived from the original on 2011-05-14. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
The Board sponsors and coordinates research for use in developing accessibility guidelines and providing technical assistance to the public.
- Young, JG; Woolley, C; Armstrong, TJ; Ashton-Miller, JA (2009). "Hand-handhold coupling: effect of handle shape, orientation, and friction on breakaway strength". Human factors. 51 (5): 705–17. doi:10.1177/0018720809355969. PMID 20196295.
- OSHA Regulations for Fixed Ladders
- Fatal Occupational Injuries by Event or Exposure, 2008-2009