4 Standards to Protect an Aging Population

Humanity is aging – standards will help keep the elderly safer.
Tim Sprinkle

According to the United Nations’ “World Population Prospects 2022” report, the population of people 65 and older is growing faster than any other age group, meaning the elder percentage of the world’s population is increasing. In fact, the U.N. estimates that by 2050, the 65+ segment will increase from 10% to 16%. At that point, there will be twice as many people aged 65 and older than there are children under 5.

While the reasons for this shift are complex, from declining fertility rates to more widespread healthcare access, the result is clear: We will see a much older average population tomorrow than we are seeing today.

As this shift unfolds, we will see an increased need for safety measures designed to meet the needs of older people and their caregivers.

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From bathroom hazards to tip-over risks to poison ingestion, standards are under development that will play an important role in mitigating these risks.

1) Consumer safety specification for grab bars and accessories installed in the bathing area (F446): According to the National Institute on Aging, more than 25% of people aged 65 years or older fall each year, and as many as 80% of those falls happen in the bathroom. The risk of falling increases with age, and bathrooms present many smooth, hard, and often wet surfaces where a slip may be more likely in comparison to other environments. Falls can lead to broken bones, fractured hips, and other long-term negative health effects. F446 is intended to reduce the number of accidents by specifying requirements for grab bars and accessories designed to decrease the probability of slips and falls during reasonable use to assist a person entering, leaving, or moving within the bathing area.

“This standard in some ways is similar to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines and the codified ANSI A117.1,” says John Leffler, P.E., Senior Managing Engineer at YA Engineering Services in Philadelphia and chair of ASTM’s subcommittees on bathing surfaces (F15.03) and surface friction (F13.10). “But those documents don’t provide grab-bar strength test procedures, so F446 is most effective for grab-bar manufacturers to test the strength of their designs. This makes sense because it is under the consumer product committee, while the ADA Accessibility Guidelines and ANSI A117.1 have a broader scope.”

2) Standard safety specification for clothing storage units (F2057): Injury from a piece of furniture, television, or appliance that is not properly secured is a very real risk that impacts thousands of children and older adults each year. Yet it is clothing-storage units that present the greatest risk. This standard is intended to reduce injuries and deaths associated with the tip-over of clothing storage units such as chests of drawers, dressers, armoires, and bureaus. It includes a stability testing procedure to ensure that the unit in question will not tip over or “be supported only by an opened drawer, opened door, or opened or unopened flap.”

3) Standard specification for adult portable bed rails and related products (F3186): Just as bed rails protect children from falls associated with rolling out of bed in the night, many older adults appreciate the protection and security that come with an adult portable bed rail. However, improperly installed bed rails can cause additional fall risks and the potential for entrapment. This standard establishes “performance requirements for adult portable bed rails, related products, and adult portable bed-rail accessories, including requirements for resistance to entrapment, marking and adhered labels, instructional literature, and advertising.” The standard is intended to minimize entrapment and strangulation risks related to the design, installation, and use of portable bed rails, with test methods, labeling requirements, and product instruction specifications.

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“The standard dates back to 2013, when a petition was filed with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The petitioners asked the CPSC to ban these bed rails,” says Patricia Edwards, former voluntary standards coordinator for the CPSC and current subcommittee chair for the subcommittee on adult safety products (F15.70), which oversees this standard. Rather than ban these products, the CPSC instructed staff to work with ASTM to develop a voluntary standard for adult bed rails, and F3186 was published in 2017. The CPSC recently approved a new mandatory regulation for bed rails that is based on this standard, but with modifications. “We are currently in the process of approving changes to the standard, to make sure they are in line with the mandatory regulation from the CPSC. We anticipate a revised 2024 version to come out soon.”

4) Safety specification for liquid laundry packets (F3159): Although ingestion risks related to single-use, liquid laundry detergent packets are often associated with the young – thanks in large part to internet trends such as the “Tide Pod Challenge” – the small packets also present serious hazards to the elderly and those who care for them. In fact, according to a recent study published in Clinical Toxicology, U.S. poison control centers receive calls related to liquid laundry packet ingestion on average roughly every 44 minutes, with 87% of those exposures occurring in young children. During the study period, however, nine deaths were connected to laundry pods, all in adults, and seven involved people over 70. This standard was created to help reduce unintentional exposures to liquid laundry detergent packets and cut down on these incidents, outlining required safety measures, packaging, and labeling requirements.

Tim Sprinkle is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs, CO. He has written for Yahoo, The Street, and other websites.

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