Sean O’Sullivan of The Platform Lift Company highlights the main considerations when specifying a platform lift and what can be achieved in terms of design, installation and ongoing maintenance
When you read about the shortage of accessible homes and the fact that the number of disabled people in this country is increasing it is very worrying. It is also distressing to hear stories that some people eat, sleep and bathe in one room because they cannot access other areas of the house. Therefore, when working with a private house, developer or social housing association to install a platform lift solution it gives specifiers a huge sense of satisfaction as it is helping to make a difference. Installing a platform lift within a house has become a lot more achievable with the innovative solutions that are now available on the market. Even the issue of available space can be overcome with bespoke design; if the user has the room to enter and exit the lift and changing the layout is viable then the installation of a platform lift should be a possibility.
When specifying a platform lift, the main requirement is that the product is fit for purpose and not necessarily price driven. The type of lift will always depend on the environment and the user – the occupational therapist and surveyor will assess each individual case and give their recommendations. Therefore, a standard residential style of lift might need to be modified. In the domestic environment a platform lift doesn’t necessarily need to comply with Part M of the building regulations as it does within a commercial application. This means there is scope to make a lift much smaller than the standard 1400mm by 1100mm size. Of course, every individual case can be different therefore specifiers measure the user’s wheelchair and measure from the base of the spine to their toes to make sure they can sit comfortably in the lift. They also take into consideration whether the person also needs a carer to be present and whether their condition is likely to change. By taking all the factors into account it is possible to future proof a design and to ensure it provides a long-term investment. When it comes to safety features again this will depend on the environment and who is using the lift. For example, if the lift is going to be installed in an environment where there is likely to be children present, then it should be fully enclosed and either a key switch control or fob so that only the user can operate the lift.
As mentioned previously, the lift always needs to be fit for purpose, consequently one specifier was recently asked by a housing association to take a standard residential style of lift to a much high specification. They introduced key fob control, intercom, automatic door closers and openers and remote-control stations. These additional safety features coupled with school control – which means once the lift has reached the floor and the user has exited the door closes behind them to prevent anyone else getting in the lift – means a much higher specification of residential lift has been created. Although the standard residential style of platform lift is a recognised solution within the housing industry, a high specification of lift will appeal to local authorities, housing associations and other organisations wanting to achieve a safe access solution in similar types of environments where there is a high footfall of people visiting or using the lift. Provided there is adequate room, the installation of a through floor residential platform lift can be achieved without major structural changes and installation is typically completed within three days with minimal disruption to the property. The external facing doors can be any RAL colour to match a surrounding decor, which gives design flexibility, and there is an option to have a glass shaft to give more feeling of space within a room. If the requirement is to overcome steps within a house, then the recommended solution will provide both stairs and a stairlift, which can be installed even in the tightest of spaces. At the touch of a button this two-in-one platform lift solution will transform from a flight of stairs to a platform lift. There is also a cantilever style of platform lift that is mounted in a pit at the floor of a staircase. When not in use it is flush with the surrounding floor but will then, in operation, rise up and over the steps and then back down again. Both access solutions offer design flexibility so that customers can choose colours and finishes to blend in with the decor of their home.
Because platform lifts come under the machine directive it is recommended that they are serviced at least twice a year, but this depends on their usage. It is advisable that this service is carried out by a platform lift specialist as the product differs from normal passenger lifts – this can mean that servicing, repairs and replacement parts can be achieved a lot quicker than through a lift engineer. Individuals can live more independently and spend time with their families because of the installation of a platform lift.
Although the progress in creating accessible homes is slow, the design of the platform lift has advanced and will continue to develop as they can be life changing within the home environment and therefore are a valuable investment.
Sean O’Sullivan is the managing director of The Platform Lift Company