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VOICE OF THE INDUSTRY: Designing and implementing manual handling systems

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James Rhodes, marketing manager at Hillrom (Liko), in charge of early mobilisation and falls prevention.

Many children with disabilities and SEN can benefit from a broad-ranging physical curriculum which covers every aspect of their development. With each unique child comes a varied learner profile, incorporating strengths, needs and short and long-term goals. Catering for a group of children with a complex and diverse range of physical, sensory, learning and medical needs takes strategic planning.

Designing accessible areas for children with disabilities requires careful consideration and should be undertaken in conjunction with an occupational therapist and other healthcare professionals.

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Whether they are adaptations to existing buildings or new installations, the design and installation of systems to support hoists requires considerable thought. If successful, such a system will enable children with a range of complex needs to move freely around a room or hall with ease. This facilitates independence, which can be liberating for both children and young adults.

There are a number of factors that should be considered when designing accessible areas within a special or mainstream school or care setting.

Selecting a manual handling system

A wide variety of hoisting systems are available and the most effective approach for each setting will depend on the physical environment and the precise functions that need to be carried out. These include:

  • Free-standing portable tracks to support hoists: These can be easily carried and transferred from room to room via a fixed track. A free-standing system has no structural requirements on the ceiling or walls making them easy to remove when the lifting system is no longer needed.
  • In situ ceiling hoist track: Ceiling hoists and associated tracking are designed for use in multi-purpose environments, from halls to swimming pools or sensory therapy areas. They offer increased flexibility, reduced lifting and patient transfer and increased safety for clients and professionals alike. This type of system can run through doorways into bedrooms, shower and swimming pool areas.
  • Gateway systems: These can be used through multi-purpose environments, by connecting up neighbouring rooms with flexible turn-tables to navigate tight curves. This can enable transfer from bedroom to bathroom or bathroom to living room, where no additional transfer is required.

Training and equipment maintenance

The introduction of a safe-patient handling policy, together with compulsory manual handling training, is essential for all staff involved in moving and lifting patients. Unfortunately, healthcare consistently ranks among the highest occupations for disabling and debilitating back injuries. 

Poor moving and handling practice can lead to back pain, musculoskeletal disorders and even accidents for those doing the lifting. Of course, poor practise can also result in discomfort and a lack of dignity for the person being moved. Regular assessments can ensure that procedures are carried out in a safe, legal and acceptable manner. These should be untaken and logged for each hoisting and lifting scenario, whether this is in a living, teaching, therapeutic or recreational area.

It is also important to ensure lifting equipment is properly maintained. To avoid the possible transmission of infectious diseases, equipment should be cleaned regularly; following the settings disinfection policies. In terms of servicing and ongoing maintenance, many contractors offer ongoing service contracts or the ability to train in-house maintenance personnel, which can often be speedier and more efficient.

Marrying manual handling and a SEN curriculum

Chailey Heritage Foundation provides education and care for children and young people with complex neuro-disabilities. Most of their young people have cerebral palsy, with associated complex health needs, and many have visual impairment and dual sensory impairments.

All the young people are wheelchair users. The charity uses a mobility and track system with more than 170 overhead hoists across the site. This includes the School, bungalows, the pool and horse-riding facilities, the Life Skills Centre and the Hub.

The School has developed its own curriculum, based on individual learner’s needs. Physical development is one of the key areas of the curriculum so using the mobility, track and hoisting system to create possibilities for learning is vital; children and young people are able to explore their environment and are more engaged, responsive and independent.

Children are encouraged to take part in physical activities to improve their ability to sit, encourage postural and head control, improve limb control and dexterity, and improve coordination and spatial awareness.

A series of hoists within classrooms also encourage and promote socialisation for children. Freeing physically disabled children from inhibitive equipment allows for increased communication and natural interaction with their peers. This could be as simple as the ability to touch each other, or something more involved such as participation and contact in a variety of verbal and physical games.

Helen Springall, SEN teacher at the school, said: “It’s easy to forget the importance of physical contact as part of a child’s natural interaction with another child. Free from cumbersome equipment, mobilised children with severe physical disabilities are able to build closer relationships and interact in a way that was previously denied to them.

“This mobilisation gives them a freedom and independence to select the games and activities they want to take part in – and pushes boundaries not just in their physical development but opens their minds to new opportunities and aspirations.”

Tags : educationhill-romhoistschool
Joe Peskett

The author Joe Peskett

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