Can Sink Design Play a Role in the Prevention of Hospital Acquired Infections?

by JRSBlogWriterAugust 17, 2018

Many people think a sink is just a sink, but for hospitals, the sink plays a vital role in infection prevention and preventing infection is something we take very seriously here at Whitehall Manufacturing. So much so that it is one of the main factors we take into consideration when designing our sinks.

For example, one feature of our sink design is the offset drain. It’s a feature that is often glossed over when specifying new sinks, but it is a critical feature for reducing the spread of Hospital-Acquired Infections or as they are sometimes called, Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAIs).

HAIs are a devastating and costly problem for hospitals. From December 2004 through March 2006, 36 transplant patients at Toronto General Hospital were either infected or colonized with Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Of those 36 patients infected, five patients were killed by the outbreak strain while it was considered a contributor to the death of seven others.

Pseudomonas bacteria thrive in drains where it forms a biofilm—a thin, slimy film of bacteria that adhere to surfaces. The hospital infection control specialists knew this, so that’s where they began the search for the cause of the outbreak.

In a report in Toronto’s Globe and Mail Dr. Gardam, head of infection control for the University Health Network (Toronto General is one of its three hospitals) said "It was really only when we said: ‘OK, we're going to test every single bloody sink multiple times' that we started finding it in some of the sinks. It was never in all of the sinks. It was only ever in some of the sinks.”

description of poor sink design & how it affects HAIsThe problem was traced to poor sink design. The sinks in these rooms featured a high gooseneck faucet, shallow basin, and a center drain that allowed water, and therefore bacteria, to easily splash out of the drain.

"The message from this for us was that hand hygiene sinks are obviously really important - and they have to be the right design. And they have to be in the right place. And they can't be splashing,” said Gardam in the Globe and Mail report.

Dr. Gardam and his team felt the issue was so important they published their findings in the SHEA journal, Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology so other healthcare organizations could learn from them. You can access the full report here.

So, now that we know how important sink design is, let’s take another look at some of the features of the Whitehall Infection Prevention Sink.

  1. Whitehall Manufacturing scrip sink highlighting infection prevention featuresA deep basin allowing for adequate washing of hands and lower arms while reducing splash.
  2. Internal slope and offset drain to prevent splashing.
  3. Little to no counter space discouraging users from placing objects on the sink adding yet another area for attracting bacteria.
  4. An added layer of protection in the form of durable antimicrobial solid surface material.
  5. Available in ADA-OBC compliant models. 

Seams, such as the one in this photo, encourage the growth of mold and bacteriaThe sinks under question at Toronto General were freestanding units. However, basins that sit in countertops may have additional areas of concerns when it comes to HAIs. Not only do you have to be diligent in making sure the countertop, as well as the items sitting on top of that surface, are free of bacteria, but the design itself may create a hazardous environment.

Whitehall's non-porous solid surface sinks are seamless throughoutMost countertops available on the market are manufactured with multiple seams, particularly where the sink connects to the countertop. Whitehall manufactures durable, non-porous solid surface material that is seamless throughout and, unlike competitors, can also be adhered seamlessly to stainless steel, eliminating the cracks and crevices where bacteria and mold grow. Because we make these countertops in our factory, our solid surface material can be cast into any size and shape you might need.

The next time you find yourself specifying sinks for your healthcare facility, remember Toronto General Hospital and look carefully at the features of the sinks you are considering. Will they aide you in the prevention of infections, or will they be the source of an outbreak?

For more information on infections prevention sinks and all our products designed to serve the healthcare community, please contact us, or visit our healthcare product page.