Preventing Falls in Hotel Bathtubs

I wouldn’t have considered posting this, except that I am in the WordCount Blogathon and don’t want to miss a day. I fell in a hotel bathtub in a “boutique luxury” hotel this morning, arrive late to a meeting, and then traveled back home by train. I am pretty badly bruised and home from my trip.

I am going to think twice about staying in “boutique”AKA “old” hotel in the future. Apparently, they don’t have to have a sturdy rail to hang on to. In many states, you only need to have a rail if the hotel is newly built. There was no such thing in or near this bathtub. A mat, which I used other days, was not close to the bathtub so I didn’t remember to put it down when I entered the shower. Not that a mat is the best protection.

In medicine, we’d call this an “adverse event” or an “avoidable error.” I am not going to sue, but I kind of wish sites like Travel Zoo, Expedia, and Priceline tabulated accidents at hotels. The reviews don’t leave space for that and people are getting older everywhere.

Can we change things so that hotel bathtubs are not hazardous? At any rate, like I said, I wouldn’t have put this up, except it shook me up and I am too tired to write much more of a post tonight. I think there should be more stringent requirements for bathroom safety in hotels everywhere.

I’ll be back to normal programming tomorrow. Good night all!


7 Responses

  1. David May 26, 2011 / 9:04 am

    Important post. Aside from some cosmetic issues it seems reasonable for all hotels to invest in a grab bar in each shower/tub. A grab bar is a low tech universal design feature: necessary for individuals with disabilities, very important for an aging population, for anyone whose balance is awry due to sinus and ear congestion, etc . I hope you spoke to the hotel management. In-room safety is as important as a sturdy lock on the room door.

  2. Laurie May 26, 2011 / 12:48 pm

    Unfortunately, this hazard is not limited to ‘old’ boutique hotels. Marriott recently renovated a number of hotels I have stayed in, including one in Miami, putting in a brand new shiny, extremely slippery tub, no bathmat, and the single grab bar is at the far end of the tub. Probably fearful of being sued after the same shiny-tub renovation in another Marriott, I noticed a rolled up bath mat under the sink. Could be that my comment is now part of my profile…

    Then again, there was the ‘handicapped accessible’ room in another Marriott — surrounded by grab bars (6 or more), but a tub that had to be climbed into — no seat, not sure how a wheelchair-bound person would benefit from all of those grab bars if they couldn’t get in.

    Anyway, this is extremely important to complain about this in each and every hotel where you see bad design and its associated risks.

  3. Eve Harris May 27, 2011 / 12:09 am

    Hope you heal well and soon. Another vote here for universal design! BTW, I called ahead tonight to the modest lodge I’ll be n for the weekend: pleeez don’t spray my room with toxins like Febreze! Unsafe comes in many forms…

  4. Norman May 27, 2011 / 12:54 am

    Actually I recently did some research on this subject. I found some interesting grab bars for bathtubs and other purposes.

    I was installing shelves in my apartment, and I wanted to find wall fasteners that would hold heavy shelves in a hollow wall. It turned out that the strongest fasteners I could find were Wingits, which were originally used to install grab bars in bathrooms. They had a clever design, and hold about 600 pounds. They’re easy to install, if drilling through ceramic tile with a diamond drill is your idea of easy.

    Wingits had a link to HealthCraft which uses a lot of their fasteners. They have a whole line of bars and poles, or what they call transfer products They’re a an Ottawa company, with biomechanical engineers. I guess Canadian engineers don’t have enough military design work to keep them busy.

    Some of these bars are bolted into the walls (using the Wingits) but others are designed as vertical bars with a friction fit, like the horizontal expansion bars they use in closets for hangers and in bathrooms for shower curtains. So you can put them up temporarily or quickly and without drilling or permanent installation. I wouldn’t think that a vertical expansion fit would be strong and reliable enough, but they’re engineers and they must have tested it.

    Their products are ingeniously designed to provide assistance in all kinds of daily living situations, such as getting out of bed, out of a chair, off a toilet, etc, that might cause problems for people who are losing muscle strength and balance. That’s increasingly common with aging. I saw a figure that 20% of people >60 have trouble bending over.

    I know people in my building who have difficulty getting around. They’re not wheelchair bound but they use canes and walkers, can’t always walk up stairs, and often need assistance. I’m still one of the young old (65-74), and I sometimes have trouble getting around. When you’re (young) old and stiff, it can be hard to lift yourself out of a chair. I worry that by the time I’m old old (75-84), I might have even more serious problems getting around. I had a neighbor in her 70s call me on the phone once, because she was stuck in bed and couldn’t get out. It’s a real feeling of helplessness.

    Accommodations like this can make the difference between continuing with independent living and having to be institutionalized. Even if you’re living with your adult children, devices like this could keep you out of the nursing home for another 5 or 10 years. Imagine having to call your daughter every time you want to get out of bed — or worrying that you might not be able to get out of bed if nobody’s around to help you.

    One of the interesting things HealthCraft did marketingwise is to design assistance devices that look like ordinary fixtures. A lot of people don’t want their bathroom to look like a nursing home, so they have for example towel bars that can hold 350 pounds, or toilet paper holders that double as support for getting off a toilet (also 350 pounds). They make them up to look like fashion items, something my mother would go for.

    I don’t mean to tout HealthCraft. I’m sure there must be other companies that provide safety and assistance devices for bathrooms and other parts of the house, and I’d be interested to see some others. I found some academic links I couldn’t find the relevant numbers that add up correctly but there seem to be about 350 deaths a year in bathtubs, 25% are children 75 years old. It would be interesting to go through the Consumer Product Safety Commission data and see what they have.

    Apparently a lot of elderly people used to die of burn injuries from bathtubs, but now they have the new single-handle faucets that limit the temperature.

    There also seem to be a lot of deaths for people with epilepsy who take baths and have seizures. I don’t think it’s a good idea for people with epilepsy to take baths.

    Years ago, I wrote an article about ground fault interrupters. There was one accident that kept happening regularly: A mother would be bathing her kid, leave them unattended for some reason, the kid would pull on the cord of a hair dryer, the hair dryer would fall into the tub and electrocute the kid. There were about 100 deaths a year like that. Some consumer advocates wanted to require the hair dryer manufacturers to install ground fault interrupters, which would have shut off the power before the kid was electrocuted, but the manufacturers said it would add $1-2 to the cost of the hair dryer, and poor people would be less able to afford hair dryers. The Wall Street Journal had editorials denouncing government interference in the free market, arguing that it was the personal responsibility of mothers to watch their children in the bathtub. The industry caved in, because they were worried that if they got sued, a jury might not buy that personal responsibility argument, and it was cheaper to install the damn ground fault interrupters. It probably cost 15 cents wholesale. Now the building codes require ground fault interrupters in bathroom and kitchen wall sockets, so the current will cut off even if the appliance doesn’t have a ground fault interrupter. That’s what the Wall Street Journal calls the road to serfdom.

  5. Marilyn June 5, 2011 / 11:28 am

    I am astounded that motels and hotels continue to have bathtubs that are extremely slick; i don’t take baths; i take showers; what i have learned to do is put a large towel on the bottom of the tub so i dont slip and fall. It is the only solution i can come up with.

  6. Jeanette September 7, 2011 / 8:56 am

    Hi Laurie,
    This summer while on vacation in Foxboro, MA my family and I stayed at the newly opened (about 18 months) Renaissance Hotel which is owned by Marriot. My first night there I took a shower in the extra slippery shower with no bath mat and one wierd grab bar that was hidden when the shower curtain was closed. I went flying and ended up with a torn rotator cuff, smashed elbow and huge bruises. It’s been a painful recovery. The hotel and Liberty Mutual (their insurance) take no responsibilty because there was an extra tiny (about 12″ x 12″) white bath mat rolled up under the sink behind the white towels. I told the hotel manager that someone is going to kill themselves in that tub. It was very slick in there and then add shampoo and conditioner on that. It was like a slip and slide. According to the Renaissance “having a bathmat in the tub or resting on top of the tub is not aesthitically pleasing.” There was no satisfaction or sympathy from the hotel. At this point I most likely will need shoulder surgery.

  7. Richard Cline December 7, 2016 / 5:08 pm

    OK, I am past 80. not handicapped but have never found a safe hotel bath facility. I wish that regulation writers would hire a couple 80-year olds to illustrate safety. Bathtubs — when you sit in a bathtub it takes both strength and agility to get out. The you shower in the tub, it is still awkward to step out. Pretend you have arthritis in one leg sos that lifting is hard. Often the best handhold is the towel bart or the shower curtain. Now try handicapped showers. The grab bars are often poorly located. The shower wand on flexible hose is initially set 6 feet off the floor. There is no soap dish so the soap must rest on the floor. No place for shaving gear nor for a washcloth. The people who write regulations and those who build bathrooms have never paid attention to real life.

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