Specifications for universal design

new home construction site with timber on the ground.Universal design is a thinking process that aims for the most inclusive design solutions possible – designing universally. It is a process that improves through iteration. This means that you can’t specify a standard, which is for one point in time, because it stops the process of continuing improvement. But we don’t live in a perfect world and some people just want to know they got it right. Ergo a standard please. 

NATSPEC is an non-profit organisation with the aim of improved construction and productivity in the built environment. Their website has a long list of technical notes, which cover many construction elements. New to the list are:

These technical notes are just two pages long. They are good for quick reference and for anyone new to universal design concepts. The Accessible Housing guidance refers to the Adaptable Housing Standard (AS4299), Livable Housing Design Guidelines, and the Access to Premises Standard. it also references the National Construction Code and related standards.

Designing with inclusion in mind will sometimes mean that more than one solution is required. So a “one-size-fits-all” approach can be counterproductive. It also means doing the best you can with what you have at the time with a view to improving with the next iteration. 


Slips, Trips and Falls: More can be done

A brown shoe is about to step on a banana skin.How do we know if a flooring surface is slip resistant? And is it resistant in different situations? Slips, trips and falls account for a significant proportion of hospital stays. But we seem to accept this as inevitable. Lots of energy goes into educating older people and others to avoid falls, but the issue is much broader. A group of passionate people think we can improve the situation by developing and testing floor surfaces that minimise the risks. This diverse group came together in a conference earlier this year.

The Slips,Trips and Falls international conference brought together a diverse group of professionals all keen to prevent accidents. So they had everything from technical specifications to footwear. The proceedings have five main sections which are worth a browse:

– Design and technical standards in architectural design; 
– Issues of slip resistance measurement;
– Ergonomics, rehabilitation, footwear and innovative products;
– Analysing accidents and the causes of falls; and
– Biomechanics, human behaviour and ageing.

It seems that Spain is ahead of the pack when it comes to testing and standards development. They demand a high level of compliance for slip resistance in the built environment. That transfers to Spanish flooring products. That means any flooring products sourced from Spain have been thoroughly tested.

A yellow A frame sign indicating a safety hazard of a wet floor.Much of this conference is technical, but the bottom line is that we could prevent many falls and hospital stays if we had the same emphasis on ensuring products had good slip resistant properties. While the Livable Housing Design Guidelines promotes slip resistance, this is one area which is often ignored. The other concern is that technical standards are lacking in Australia for homes and the public environment.  

A short video gives some of the key points from the conference. The link is on Richard Bowman’s page on ResearchGate. The video is subtitled due to the different languages spoken. A nicely filmed piece. Richard Bowman’s paper is also available on ResearchGate. 

The slippery case of slip resistance

A graph showing slip resistance gradingsRichard Bowman’s recent publication challenges conventional methods of testing tiles for slip resistance. Testing is mostly done in laboratories and the results are used for setting Standards for slip resistance. In real environments, speed of walking, inclines, changes in weather, and cleaning materials among other factors can all have an effect on the slip resistance of tiled surfaces. He argues that these are not always taken into consideration. While his paper is very technical, it is essential reading for anyone involved in access compliance and all round safety for everyone. The title of his paper is, Can we develop slip resistance metrics that ensure appropriate tile selection?  Read to the end to see what he has to say about two popular Australian access guides that cover slip resistance.

Richard Bowman is a ceramic engineer, who spent 30 years working as a principal research scientist at CSIRO – Australia’s national scientific research organisation. Richard also presented a paper at the 2014 Australian Universal Design Conference. 

Extract from Abstract: This paper reviews several aspects of the state of the art of slip resistance testing in the context of trying to identify an ISO testing procedure that would provide suitable metrics for optimising appropriate tile selection. While existing test methods might be represented as being fit for purpose, there are several areas of test protocols that could and should be significantly improved. …While the existing paradigm of solely assessing the ex-factory slip resistance of tiles is flawed and contrary to sensible regulatory measures, new data is required to establish credible evidence-based practicable standards.