Designing macerators for patients

Photo of a quiet hospital ward at nightPhoto of a quiet hospital ward at night

Reducing infection control has been a key theme when disposing of human waste in healthcare environments.  The shift from reusable bedpans and washers to disposable pulp bedpans and macerators has improved infection risk rates and freed up time for nursing staff that would otherwise be spent emptying and cleaning.

Traditionally macerators have been installed in the sluice room but new hospital projects being built under the NHS procurement framework are being encouraged to make repeatable room arrangements. This can make the journey to the sluice room longer and increases the risk of spillage as well as infection control risk.

In an effort to negate this risk, macerators have been installed at point of care within the en-suites of multi-bed bays but it’s been reported of a reluctance to run the machines at night.  Understandably ward staff are concerned with the effect of noise on patient’s recovery.

To put this in perspective, a typical macerator operates at 60 – 65dB; 60dB is the level of normal conversation but also the average night-time hospital noise – studies at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton found noise levels on an average medical ward exceeded 60dB most of the time.

It’s not just patients affected, noises above 60dB do mean sleep disturbance but also increasing annoyance for staff who as a result may experience increased fatigue, emotional exhaustion and difficulty in communication leading to errors.

It’s an issue not fully recognised across all manufacturers across the industry whose machines are used constantly but previously out of patient’s sight and earshot.

In response to the possible negative impact on patient healthcare outcomes, we’ve been working with noise analysis experts to understand where the noise was coming from and how it was transmitted in their machines.  Our design engineers then used several strategies to reduce the sound in the machine as well as launching the night mode function.

Over the last 12 months trials have been taking place for a new generation of macerators with night mode functionality that perform at just over 50dB – a reduction of 10dB.  To explain the impact this has made, the smallest audible sound (near total silence) is 0 db. A sound 10 times more powerful is 10 db, a sound 100 times more powerful than near total silence is 20 db and a sound 1,000 times more powerful than near total silence is 30 db.

Of course, acoustics isn’t the only change to make macerators fit for purpose in a patient environment so instrumental to the evaluation has been its inclusion at Static System’s Design and Innovation Centre (D&IC) near Wolverhampton.  With a regular flow of clinicians, contractors, architects and healthcare planners, the evolution has been validated from across the industry.

It means that with these advancements our new Solo dB macerator can sit alongside the toilet (which incidentally makes a noise of 75dB 3 when flushed) and truly enhances the patients’ experience.

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