When it comes to accidental slips and falls, the bathroom certainly gets a bad rap: it is one of the highest-risk areas in the home.

For improved safety in and around the bath, grab bars as well as non-slip surfaces and mats make all the difference, and so does proper lighting. This article examines what adjustments are necessary if your bathroom lacks one or more of these features.

Grab bars: a must

A towel bar, soap dish or shower curtain rod is definitely not on the list of useful accessories in the event that you lose balance or slip while taking a bath or shower! What is needed is one or, ideally, several grab bars properly anchored to the walls of the bath or shower to provide the required support. Researchers have found, however, that most grab bars aren’t optimally located—a deficiency that greatly reduces their effectiveness.¹

Features of a quality grab bar

•    A grab bar should be 1¼ to 1½ in. (30 to 40 mm) in diameter and include a non-slip surface.

•    It should be anchored to the studs behind the wall of the bath, or into a sheet of plywood at least ½ in. (16 mm) thick firmly attached to the studs before the layer of gypsum or fibre-cement wallboard is installed on top of it.

  • It must be mounted such that it can support a weight of at least 300 lb (133 kg) as stated in CSA Standard B651.
  • There should be a gap of 1⅜ to 1⅝ in. (35 to 45 mm) between the bar and the wall.


Optimum positioning

A study conducted for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation found two grab-bar configurations clearly stood out among five different layouts tested by more than 100 elderly people who lived in their own homes.

1.    Two-bar configuration

  • The first grab bar is 24 in. (60 cm) long and mounted on the back wall of the bath, at a 45-degree angle, with the lowest point 9 in. (23 cm) above the rim of the bathtub and 29 in. (74 cm) from the faucet wall; the highest point is 12 in. (30 cm) from the faucet wall;
  • The second bar is 48 in. (120 cm) long and installed vertically on the faucet wall, starting at a point 7 in. (18 cm) above the rim of the tub.


2.    Four-bar configuration

  • Two 32 in. (82 cm) grab bars are mounted horizontally on the back wall of the bath, the lower bar at 9 in. (23 cm) above the rim of the tub and the higher one at 19 in. (48 cm) above the rim of the tub;
  • Two more bars, each of them 24 in. (61 cm) long, are mounted on the faucet wall and the opposite wall, 19 in. (48 cm) above the rim of the tub.

If you’re renovating a bathroom, plan ahead for safety! Reinforce the walls around the bath and near the toilet, even if you don’t plan to install grab bars right away. It’s a good idea to note the exact positions for anchoring the grab bars by means of a sketch or photos taken before the wall covering goes on; then you can keep that information with your important home documents.

Other safety allies: non-slip surfaces and sufficient lighting

There are two other safety features that go together with grab bars when it comes preventing bathroom falls:

  • Non-slip floor coverings or mats both inside and outside the bathtub; and
  • Proper lighting.

For less slippery surfaces…

Ceramic and porcelain tile are by far the most popular bathroom floor covering options. They’re durable as well as moisture-, mould- and wear-resistant, but they’re also very hard surfaces, and so not particularly desirable in the event of a fall! It’s therefore best to avoid products with a very glossy enamel finish, which can become too slippery when they get wet. Instead, opt for textured or matte-finish tiles, or ones with non-slip properties.

Some flexible coverings, like linoleum for example, are an interesting alternative for bathroom floors. They provide a softer surface and are often seamless. Higher-end products of this type are available in a wide range of patterns and colours, with easy-care, durable finishes.

Whichever type of floor covering you choose, there should also be non-slip mats in and beside the bathtub: many a fall or other mishap occurs when entering or exiting the bath. It’s important too choose mats with superior adhesion so they don’t move when stepped on.

In addition, any stools (e.g., to help children reach the washbasin) and stepladders designed for bathroom cleaning should also have non-slip surfaces.

… and for seeing things more clearly

Vision impairment is another significant contributing factor to accidents in the home. Bathroom safety therefore also requires adequate lighting in every last nook and cranny.

Some data that shed light on visual impairment

Statistics show that young children and the elderly are most at risk for accidents in the home. The Quebec Coroner’s Office notes that psychomotor co-ordination difficulties as well as visual immaturity (in the case of children) and decreased visual acuity (in the elderly) are the key contributing factors.

Indoor lighting specialists recommend ambient lighting with an intensity of 300 lumens/m² coupled with task lighting of 500 lumens/m² for the bathroom. Ambient lighting provides the overall lighting in a room, while task lighting (also called directed lighting) provides higher levels for specific activities. In both cases, the key is to have fairly bright but not blinding light.

Often, more attention is paid to lighting the washbasin and vanity, to the detriment of the bath and shower enclosure. There is much to be gained on the safety front, however, by ensuring that these areas are just as well lit.

Recessed fixtures and track lighting are especially attractive options for lighting a bath or shower enclosure. Make sure, however, that they are designed to resist the vapour produced by the bath or shower.

Some bathroom ceiling fans are also fitted with ambient light fixtures and, sometimes, a night light. The latter, with its low-intensity bulb, makes it easier to find one’s way in the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Grab bars, non-slip surfaces and sufficient lighting are a winning combination to help prevent accidents—and, more important, injuries!

1.    Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Evaluation of Optimal Bath Grab Bar Placement for Seniors.