Andy Nurrish, Koller Sales Manager image
Andy Nurrish, Koller Sales Manager

In this article, Andy Nurrish, Koller Sales Manager, explores how to know whether the accessible vehicle equipment a client is using is appropriate and correctly used when travelling. He details some of the simple checks that can be undertaken to ensure wheelchair passengers are safe to travel.

There are currently around 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK and although thousands travel in vehicles every day, very few problems are reported. However, in the small number of injuries and fatalities recorded, investigations reveal that the cause is rarely attributed to a piece of faulty equipment. The majority are the result of inappropriate, inadequate or incorrectly used equipment, which can pose as much risk to wheelchair users as a vehicle impact.

So how do you know the equipment you are using is appropriate, adequate and correctly used when travelling?

There are simple checks that can be undertaken to ensure wheelchair passengers are safe to travel. These should be done regularly to ensure all equipment is in good working order. Whether using a personal vehicle, minibus, taxi, coach or ambulance adequate equipment and training is key.

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A good starting point

A good starting point is to ensure anyone using safety equipment in an accessible vehicle is fully trained in its use. Knowing how to use Wheelchair Tie-down and Occupant Restraint System (WTORS) is essential and, to do this safely, training should be a number one priority for the driver or attendant.

Training should be hands-on for better understanding and take place regularly to ensure knowledge is up to date. Operators may need to get several passengers onboard safely so training on the efficient use of the product will help here.

While every disability is different, there is a common way of applying harnesses and restraints and it should be done in a considered manner. Rushing the process could be detrimental so leave enough time to do the job properly.

If in doubt, always speak directly to the manufacturer of the wheelchair accessible vehicle products who can provide advice on equipment. Many WTOR providers also offer training packages, some free of charge when purchasing equipment. This guidance is important to undertake to ensure those using the equipment are confident and have the knowledge to use proficiently. Professional training will help with this.

Check wheelchair condition

The Department for Transport (DfT) advises that a wheelchair should be in good condition for travel.

It states: “Make sure that it is correctly maintained, that the tyres are properly inflated, that you have not overloaded the back of the chair with bags (this can cause the chair to tip over backwards on a ramp). If you have a powered chair you must also ensure that the battery is secure. If your chair has adjustable kerb climbers you should check that they are set so that they do not catch on the ramp.”

Check all working parts of the wheelchair. If the wheelchair is in a poor condition to begin with, you cannot expect the WTORS to work effectively.

There are many hundreds of models of wheelchairs on the market and not all can be used in a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) as some are incompatible with WTORS. It needs to have been tested for this purpose and passed ISO standards.

In the clear

When a wheelchair and passenger are transported, it is very important to ensure they are clear of items like baggage. Anything hanging off the wheelchair can obstruct equipment and cause instability when loading or unloading.

Also remember that some accessories, like feeding trays, are not suitable to leave on the wheelchair during transportation and should be removed.

Examine equipment

It is not just the wheelchair that is important to check – also look at the condition of the equipment securing the wheelchair in the vehicle as this is the primary means of protection in a vehicle. Are the components old, worn or rusty? Look at the seat belt webbing, does it have frayed edges? If the wheelchair restraint webbing has any defects, it is putting the passenger at risk.

Although the wheelchair restraint condition is extremely important, there are other areas to consider. Look at the tracking on the vehicle floor, is it free from debris and grit and in good condition with no dents? This can have an impact on how well the wheelchair restraint will sit in the tracking rails.

Examine the seat belt stalk and buckle. If you can see fractured or damaged casing, the mechanism may be affected inside and will not meet the safety standard required for travel.

Take a look at the sheath that protects the cable of the stalk. If it is damaged, do not use it as the cable or wires may be frayed or broken affecting the safety of the product. If there is no casing or cover on the buckle that protects the mechanism, then it should be replaced immediately before further use.

If a wheelchair winch is used, ensure all parts are working properly and the belt is complete and undamaged. If using a battery powered device, check it is fully charged and does not need replacing. Also check the safety features, like the emergency stop and over-load and obstruction sensor, work correctly.

A lot of damage is caused through carelessness, misuse and even wheelchairs running over equipment. Always check everything from restraints and buckles, to seat belt stalks and rail to ensure they are in good working order.

Wheelchair restraints

The most common form of securement of a wheelchair in a vehicle is through tie-down wheelchair restraints. These are very effective and can be easily used to secure all types and styles of wheelchair.

Chairs should have wheelchair tie-down securement points that should be clearly labelled with a karabiner symbol.  Make sure when using tie-downs that they are secured to the marked securement points and not to movable parts like wheels or foot supports.

Always secure the wheelchair first, then you can move on to securing the passenger. Passengers should be secured with both a lap belt and a shoulder restraint system, similar to an ordinary car seat belt. Make sure when fitting the belt that it is not over an arm rest or around the wheel for example and sits against the passenger.

Also make sure the products have been crash-tested and can withstand any force in case of an accident. Some wheelchairs are extremely heavy, particularly those that are battery powered. Check the restraint has been crash-tested to exceed the weight of the wheelchair plus passenger.

Not all wheelchair tie-down systems are suitable for all wheelchairs, however there are many options on the market, for example, some wheelchair restraints have been crash-tested for heavy wheelchairs up to 200kg plus passenger. Some wheelchairs may have large tubing and may require additional straps in order to fit the wheelchair tie-down. Always ensure that the restraints being used fit correctly and are of a high quality, with crash test certification and ISO standards. Speak with the wheelchair restraint supplier to confirm what you are using is up to the job and will meet individual requirements.

Safety using lifts

If using a vehicle lift, ensure it is maintained in accordance to the manufacturer’s instructions. For extra peace of mind and to stop the risk of wheelchair users and attendants falling from the raised platform, use a robust lift barrier. These lightweight barriers can be fitted with ease by clipping into the rail and stored away when not in use.

About Koller

Koller, specialists in the design and manufacture of wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) products, has been producing components for the WAV sector for over 40 years. With extensive experience over several decades, Koller is well versed in the best practice procedures for those companies transporting wheelchairs.

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