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Contrast Is Not Simply Black & White

WHEN choosing products for use in healthcare environments, you need to meet requirements of the Equality Act (2010).
Sustained slip-resistance is a pre-requisite, but contrast is another important factor in your product choice.
l Why contrast matters?: The use of colour, light and contrast in everyday environments is not just an issue for the visually impaired, carefully considered schemes can enhance the usability of the space for everyone.
For someone who is visually impaired though, subtle differences between floors, walls, steps and doorways can be problematic. Colour alone is not the only aspect when considering contrast, as the amount of light reflected from surfaces is the main factor in determining a person’s ability to identify different surfaces.
l What are Light Reflectance Values (LRVs)?: This is the industry standard for measuring contrast, as set out in BS8493:2008. Every material has an LRV, measured on a scale between 0 and 100, where 0 is jet black, and 100 is a perfect white, though in reality, readings of 0 and 100 are considered unachievable. As the name suggests, LRVs measure the proportion of useful light reflected by a coloured object rather than actual colour. Therefore different colours can share the same LRV.
l What are the regulations?: The need for visual clarity is not new. Colour and contrast have been cited in regulations as far back as 1992 (Building Regulations Approved Document M). LRVs appeared in the 2004 edition of that document, with more detail set out in BS 8493:2008.
The Equality Act 2010 requires all new and refurbished public buildings and work places to comply with current regulations, ensuring safe entry, exit and safe passage through the building. Failure to comply can result in hefty fines.
l How do I meet requirements?: The rules are pretty straightforward. There should be at least a 30 point variance in LRVs between adjacent surfaces. So this applies to the contrast between floors and walls, as well as walls to ceilings, door faces/ frames, handrails and sanitary fittings.
Conversely, where using different types of flooring alongside each other and there is no step between them, it’s equally important to ensure that the LRVs of the materials are as similar as possible to avoid creating the illusion of a step where there is none. That means threshold strips should also blend with the flooring.
l How do I choose products?: To avoid creating illusions of steps, there are benefits to choosing flooring that’s versatile enough to be used throughout a wide area. Flooring and wall cladding ranges that offer broad colour choice will give good scope for achieving the minimum 30 point LRV difference. Working with more limited ranges can prove problematic.
For steps and stairs, a real area of slip risk, use a good quality safety floor with stair nosings in a contrasting colour to the tread to reduce slip and trip risk. You’ll also need to consider handrails on stairs and in corridors and bathrooms to help with navigation and keep people steady on their feet. Again, these should be in contrasting colour to the walls.
l How do I find LRVs?: It is good practice for manufacturers to make LRV information readily available about their products online.
Suzy Ballard is a technologist at Altro

This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal. You can find them at