Should Healthcare Facilities be using ESD Flooring?

by Thomas Ricciardelli

A human being walking on a carpeted floor on a cold, dry day can generate 5,000 volts or more of static electricity. That’s why people literally get shocked when touching somebody else or a metal object. It’s also why medical equipment and electronics used in a medical office or lab can be vulnerable. It’s one big reason why the healthcare industry is taking a hard look at ESD flooring.

Among the many reasons for this concern is the impact static electricity can have on issues related to patient diagnosis and care, such as data corruption impacting such items as patient records, diagnostic failure (e.g. the impact static electricity could have on an MRI machine), and patient discomfort.

SelecTech flooring products are used in healthcare facilities and labs, including this MRI room at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

During the pandemic, we have heard a lot about the data and how critical it is to patient care. Static control in a healthcare facility plays an important part in safeguarding expensive computer and electronic equipment and also keeping data from being compromised and the fallout from that: delays or misdiagnosis.

ESD flooring does not prevent static electricity. It can significantly reduce static electricity to safe levels. Generally, in a healthcare setting, if static charges on people can be kept below 2000 volts, many of the hazards can be significantly reduced. In a healthcare setting, this enables computer and electronics to function without the risk of data or machinery being damaged.

When the static electricity in a medical office, examination room or lab is under control, it helps ensure the data is accurate, giving the medical professional the information needed to diagnose and treat.

Typically, ESD flooring is used in an “ESD controlled” environment and used in areas where there are very sensitive electronic components being assembled. In these types of environments, it’s important to keep voltages much lower, below 100 volts. To accomplish this, the flooring must be used in conjunction with ESD footwear so that there is a good electrical connection between the person and the floor.

Fortunately, a healthcare setting, while being sensitive to ESD hazards, is not as sensitive as say an electronics assembly environment. So consequently, people don’t necessarily need to wear ESD footwear.  Nor it is reasonable to think that ESD footwear would be worn in these environments by patients and staff.  That’s why it’s important to look at how different ESD floors perform with regular footwear and ensure that they are capable of keeping voltages on people below 2000 volts.

Most ESD flooring specifications are tested using special footwear. For the healthcare applications, it’s very helpful to know how the flooring with perform with “regular” street shoes. In most cases, you’ll have to ask the manufacturer if they have this information.

Down time is another key consideration for a healthcare or medical facility, particularly if the room being refloored houses critical equipment (e.g. MRI machine). Do your research. There are flooring products available that can be installed over existing flooring, which greatly minimizes down time.

Maintenance is another key factor as tiles in a medical facility need to be regularly cleaned to prevent spread of germs. Some ESD products may require special cleaners, others might not. Again, you need to do your research.

The healthcare facility market continues to be focused on improving patient outcomes, safety and satisfaction for the patients and staff. Controlling static in these environments can benefit all of these factors. It can also reduce costs by helping to prevent issues from occurring in the first place.

Thomas Ricciardelli

Thomas Ricciardelli is the president of SelecTech, Inc.