Selecting furniture that’s fit for a demanding world

Steve Smith, Sales Office Manager of contract furniture manufacturer Will Beck, looks at the challenges of providing the best possible choices in the ever-changing mental health environment

Are more people being diagnosed with mental health disorders today or are the taboos that have for so long stopped us from properly addressing these issues finally fading?

Either way, over the past decade we’ve seen a large increase in demand for furniture that’s suitable for mental health and challenging environments.

When selecting products for mental health placement there are some very important aspects to consider as this market has a diverse nature. Not every patient suffers mental health conditions of the same severity, so, a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not suitable and should be avoided. For instance, you probably wouldn’t go for a fully weighted and bolted down sofa in a low-dependency unit where patients simply are not considered a high enough risk to warrant it.

With this in mind, manufacturers of such furniture tend to offer different options and configurations for their products to meet the end users’ requirements. This means many aspects of a product’s design have been considered, such as stitching all the upholstery into one piece, and eliminating gaps around cushions so that hazardous objects cannot be hidden. The use of anti-tamper screws also enables manufacturers to add an extra level of security to their products. Products can also be bolted flush to the floors and walls – again, reducing the risk of concealment.

Dramatic shift

Throughout the past few years we’ve also seen a dramatic shift in the upholstery market, as more and more suppliers are now incorporating antimicrobal qualities into their fabrics and vinyls, giving infection prevention and control a massive boost. When supplying products for use in clinical environments it is now standard that they meet the strict standards set out by the Care Quality Commission and infection control teams within the Department for Health and the NHS. In addition there are requirements for contract strength upholstery to be BS 7176 Crib 5 Compliant and to be a minimum of 75,000 Martindale Rubs – classed as Severe Contract Strength.

Some key features of mental health furniture include a requirement for products to be anti-ligature designs. Reducing ligature points means patients are less able to attach items to hang themselves from. End-users prefer products to feature soft, rounded ‘bull nosed’ corners and cut-outs in place of handles. Piano hinges are preferred to standard hinges on doors to reduce the risk of finger trap and make it harder to rip doors off. Reinforced drawers are also popular, and there is one manufacturer of drawer runners that certify them to 100kg!

Another innovation to reduce ligature points inside a wardrobe is replacing a rail with a groove located on the top edge of a shelf enabling coat hangers to sit securely. Sloping tops are also favoured on doors and the top of cabinets as it reduces the risk of harm by preventing climbing.

Golden rule

The golden rule when considering furniture for extremely challenging environments is to remember the product either needs to be secure and so heavy that it cannot be easily moved or so light that it can be hurled around the room without breaking or causing damage to a person.

One health trust we previously worked with advised us that patients should be able to beat each other with the product all day long without any harm coming to both themselves and the product!

If the past decade is anything to go by it wouldn’t surprise me if, at some stage, we find ourselves being asked to base all healthcare furniture on these standards.