A Year of Progress for Handrail UV-C Disinfection
(Published: Elevator World - February 2022)
By Lawrence Madanda
Early in 2020, as the pandemic made it’s way into our daily lives, there was a dramatically increased concern regarding common touch points found in public places, where the risk of transmission was proven to be exceptionally high. One of the most contentious public domain “touch-points” are the moving handrails found on escalators and moving walks.
The avoidance of holding handrails has long been a challenge to operators as most accidents result from the reluctance of users to hold the handrail. Compounded with the concerns of the virus causing Covid-19, holding a handrail in 2020-2021 became a gamble not many were willing to make.
Several industries and agencies frantically looked for solutions and options to minimize these risks. One solution that gained rapid attention was Ultraviolet light (UV). UV light has long had the unique ability to destroy a pathogen’s ability to reproduce and spread. UV-C in particular has the ideal wavelengths to damage a pathogen’s DNA, resulting in its’ inability to spread to a host and spread infection. This has been proven in volumes of scientific experiments, studies and papers. But, does that mean it works on handrails? Not necessarily….
Does UV-C (Ultraviolet Light) Disinfect Covid-19 on Moving Handrails?
The first truth of all disinfection (including UV-C) is that NO single product can claim to eliminate the risk of infection. There are far too many variables in an actively used escalator or moving walk to make such a claim. In fact, no disinfectant product (liquid, gel, coating, protectant, etc..) can make this claim for handrails.
Therefore, the first step is to acknowledge that a responsible product will focus on the reduction of risk on moving handrails. This is where a continuous, or “always on” source of disinfection, such as HoldSafeTM by PürHealth, is becomes very interesting. However, not all solution are the same.
To achieve a verified and honest claim requires transparent information on 3 critical questions:
1. What is the UV-C light source?
At last count, there were 100’s of LED companies globally, several of which claim to produce UV-C LEDs. UV-C wavelength LEDs are one of the hardest to produce with accuracy and reliability. IN 2020 a Canadian advisory warned that several consumer UV products were falsely making claims, yet were proliferating the market.1 UV-C light sources cannot be taken for granted.
There are very few verified LED Chip manufacturers in the world who produce reliable and effective UV-C LEDs. Industry standards for test conditions and parameters exist for LEDs to validate performance and lifetime. Unless from a reputable LED source, this data cannot be trusted and is often inaccurate.
UV-C LED’s are continually evolving, creating the opportunity for consistent upgrades to improve the efficacy of UV-C solutions. PürHealth is a UV-C LED solution company with close links to the best LED manufacturers. This provides a roadmap of upgrades that will keep our solution at the cutting edge of continuous disinfection.
2. How has the product been tested?
Most manufacturers will reference published test reports on UV-C effectiveness. Although from reputable sources, these are typically conducted for medical or health care purposes. These tests are not representative of the actual results that could occur on an actual handrail. Referencing generic UV-C reports should no longer be acceptable.
To be valid, the testing has to be able represent a real-world risk factor, such as an individual who is covid-19 positive, coughing in their hand and making contact with the handrail. This is the real scenario that needs to be tested for, and with only one exception, no company has conducted this testing.
The use of accredited and independent testing agencies is also another criteria that is often overlooked. If companies cannot produce independent testing from known testing labs, they are likely not testing at all.
3. Is the design optimized for moving handrails?
Simply applying UV-C light to a moving handrail is ineffective unless it is optimized for this purpose. A surprising example is that several designs try to simply reflect UV-C light to the sides of the handrail which is ineffective. The sides of a handrail are key touch-points, and failing to properly apply UV-C light on them, is an overall failure.
To optimize the design includes direct exposure of the UV-C light onto the 3 sides of the handrail (not with reflectors) and can include other enhanced features to track and manage the lifetime of the UV-C source (which is limited to 10,000 hours in most cases). These are must-have design features not found in the majority of products.
What do Operators of Escalators Need to do?
Ultimately, an operator of escalator and moving walks is handling high volumes of users and has a responsibility to ensure the safest possible environment. If we are to learn from the last 2 years, we need to acknowledge that public safety transcends physical risks and now includes microbiological risks.
Operators, manufacturers and service providers need to offer their customers the most effective and reliable products available. We are no longer in a “panicked” market and buyers can now focus on sourcing products that can prove their overall effectiveness, not just for specific Covid-19 fighting times. Manufacturers of UV products can no longer ride the wave of short-term gain and need to show a long term commitment to their products and the science. Always look for a disinfection supplier with a roadmap for the future, a knowledge of maintenance cycles and the ability and willingness to upgrade.
Users need a renewed sense of trust and confidence when using a moving handrail, and operators can play an important role in selecting the right solution. We have learned that the benefits of safety practices such as hand washing, almost eradicated the flu season last year and the use of continuous disinfection protocols will continue to minimise these events, and create safer environments. Eventually, governing bodies may start to mandate certain protocols for public safety, however now is the time to differentiate and attract users back on premises. There are several advantages to promoting this type of enhancement on their properties, from showing a public responsibility to being leaders in their category.
How to make the right choice?
This past year has allowed the manufacturers of handrail UV disinfection devices the opportunity to evolve, invest and develop better solutions. Unfortunately, the majority of the market did not answer that call and continues to promote an outdated product, likely not to have the test data, optimized design or reliability that is needed today. Even some of the largest and most established brands in the industry may have fallen into this trap as UV disinfection was never a consideration of the vertical transportation industry in the past.
It is actually quite easy to find the better product on the market. It requires the transparency of the manufacturer to share all the technical, test and performance data of their products. It starts on the website, and can easily be exposed with the right questions;
What is the UVC source and is it reputable?
Was there testing for the virus causing covid-19 on actual handrail material?
Is the product designed to maximize effectiveness for escalator and moving walk handrails?
Does the manufacturer have a clearly defined upgrade and maintenance schedule for the products, and will they be there tomorrow to help you?
As PürHealth, the manufacturer of HoldSafe products, we can proudly and confidently answer all of the above, and more. We are a UV disinfection company, so we understand how to deliver an effective product and make responsible and realistic claims.
Although we all hope to never experience a global pandemic of the same scale, we have to recognize that we all have a responsibility to do what we can to minimize that risk. Avoiding the next pandemic will be the result of several cumulative actions, and investing in safer handrails is one of those critical choices.
PürHealth Technologies Inc. leverages over 40 years of LED and design expertise to bring products to market that use UV technology in innovative ways to make our world a safer place. Smarter Products, Safer Places.
Published in the February 2022 Issue of Elevator World - all rights reserved