Mental health patients 'at risk' as current testing methods fail to protect patients
Industry leaders are warning that current testing standards for window restrictors in mental health units are inadequate following news that a man suffered serious injury after falling 20 feet from a hospital ward earlier this year.
The concerns come despite a Department of Health, Estate and Facilities Alert published in 2013 which stated that ‘window restrictors may be inadequate in preventing a determined effort to force a window open beyond the 100mm restriction’.
We have known for five years that that the force testing of window restrictors to the British standard does not adequately address the excessive application of pressure
The alert stated that: “All healthcare organisations should review the guidance on window restrictors contained in Health Technical Memorandum HTM 55 Windows and associated hardware; and where problems are identified, a programme to repair or replace damaged restrictors should be put in place.”
But problems remain, evidenced by the recent incident at the Medway Maritime Hospital in Kent in January in which a 52-year-old patient was treated for multiple injuries.
Commenting after the fall, Karen Rule, executive director of nursing at Medway NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We can confirm that a patient on one of our wards fell from a ledge earlier this month after forcing a window open and climbing out.
"The window was fitted with restrictors which met all the required health and safety standards to ensure that our patients are protected.
“However, the patient used significant and sustained force to break through these restrictors.
“The safety of our patients is our number one priority and we have robust, well-established processes in place to ensure their wellbeing.
“An investigation is now under way to understand how this incident occurred.”
And experts warn that, without action, there will be more incidents.
Toby Staff, managing director at Newstar Door Controls, told BBH: “We have known for five years that that the force testing of window restrictors to the BS EN 13126-5:2011 standard does not adequately address the excessive application of pressure, as was details in the 2013 alert.
“The DOH stated that the forced opening test, which is a maximum of 500N, is insufficient and in mental health facilities there is a requirement for higher levels of strength than the standard.”
This recent incident shows the importance of auditing windows and window restrictors already fitted to assess if they are fit for purpose
Offering advice to hospital trusts following the latest incident, he added: “This recent incident shows the importance of auditing windows and window restrictors already fitted to assess if they are fit for purpose.
“There should also be a review of risk assessments, inspection, and maintenance systems amd all installed windows should be inspected to ensure they are adequate for the purpose intended and meet regulations.
“In particular we recommend inspecting areas where there is potential for abuse from excessive force, or the potential to defeat the window restrictor by the insertion of a blade such as a screwdriver, thin knife, or scissors.”
Cubelock is one of a number of manufacturers to have taken the 2013 advice on board, routinely testing and retesting its products to far-higher levels of strength.
Staff said: “ BS EN 13126-5:2011 requires a holding force of 500N, but we have tested our window restrictors to more than triple that, with our CLB1 products reaching 1907N, and CLS1 and CLP1 both attaining 1971N. Indeed, when these two products are working in tandem, we have achieved a holding force of 5250N, over 10 times the maximum requirement.
“Test results show the strength of these restrictors far outweighs what’s required by the current standard and offers facilities managers within medical buildings a more-robust window restrictor to keep patients safe.”