While not an obvious choice as a flooring material from the perspective aesthetics or fashionable trends, rubber possesses significant advantages when to indoor environments where a premium is placed upon resilience and hygiene.
This is of especial relevance for modern healthcare facilities, where aesthetic concerns should take a backseat to the functional priority of good hygiene in a pathogen-laden environment.
One of the chief advantages of rubber as a flooring material is its enhanced resistance to microorganisms and its ability to stymie the spread of bacterial pathogens – a factor which is of critical importance in environments such as a medical centres or hospitals.
Rubber is a nonporous material that possesses innate bacteriostatic and fungistatic properties. This means that it is difficult for hazardous microbes or microscopic fungi to accumulate on the surface of rubber flooring materials, and even once they grab a foothold it’s difficult for them to proliferate.
In addition to its ability to help suppress the proliferation of harmful pathogens, rubber’s resilient, nonporous nature makes it far easier to keep in a clean and hygienic state than other widely employed flooring materials.
Because it’s nonporous, rubber already possesses heightened resistance to grime and chemicals, which can more readily enter or cling to materials of a softer, more yielding character.
The resilient nature of rubber floors often means that they do not require sealing or finishing, and can be kept in a state of effective hygiene using little more than soapy water. This is a major advantage compared to other flooring types that require heavy-duty chemicals for effective cleansing.
The ease with which rubber flooring lends itself to cleaning is of particular benefit to healthcare providers, as it means that they can save money on expensive specialised cleaning products. It also frees them from the need to shut down significant swathes of their own facilities during cleaning operations.
Further cost benefits are achieved due to the comparative toughness and resilience of rubber materials. While rubber flooring presents higher initial costs than popular alternatives such as linoleum or vinyl, a number of studies indicate that their overall life cycle costs tend to be lower due to its more resilient character.
A 2003 study by the Global Development and Environment Institute found that rubber incurs lower annual maintenance costs, and over a 20-year life cycle is cheaper than vinyl, linoleum, and carpet.
In addition to enhanced hygiene and resilience, rubber floors possess other functional advantages for healthcare facilities, including noise insulation and improved ergonomics.
Rubber flooring possesses strong acoustic insulation properties, absorbing sound as opposed to transferring or reflecting it. This can help dim the noise pollution created in healthcare facilities by frequent traffic through walkways, in the form of either staff and patient perambulation or the transportation of wheeled carts or beds.
For facilities designed to abet the convalescence of medical patients, the curbing of noise pollution is of vital importance, serving to reduce stress levels and helping to create a more restful environment conducive to mental and physical well-being.
Floor ergonomics are also improved by the use of rubber materials, whose tough structure reduce the physical stress caused by both perambulation and standing to the feet, legs and backs of staff members or patients.
This is especially important in a healthcare setting, where medical staff work lengthy shifts that can be in excess of 12 hours, and involve cumulative walking distances of as long as eight kilometres.
Not all rubber flooring materials are suitable for use in healthcare facilities, however, and as with all building products, they are subject to considerable variation in terms of quality and functional properties.
Purchasers should be mindful of the traction level of rubber floor materials, as slippery surfaces can contribute to trips or falls, which can be particularly hazardous to the potentially frail occupants of a healthcare facility.
Australian Standards HB 198:2014 – “Guide to the specification and testing of slip resistance of pedestrian surfaces” outlines the slip ratings requirements of the Building Code of Australia for various conditions, and provides guidance concerning those parts of public buildings not included within the BCA’s remit.
The easiest solution for this issue is simply to use textured rubber flooring which is readily available on the market, and whose slip ratings are well beyond those prescribed by Australian standards for new (AS 4586) and existing (AS 4663) surfaces.