Passenger vans—which typically have an occupancy of between nine and 15 people—are used by many organizations to transport a wide range of passengers. Some of those passengers require the use of a wheelchair. This is where wheelchair safety for passenger vans comes into the picture. Wheelchairs can either be stored as cargo when not in use or used as a seat during transport. There are many safety considerations and best practices to be aware of for those who are in charge of the loading, unloading and securement of wheelchairs and their occupants in passenger vans.
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These best practices are especially important when a passenger is using a wheelchair as a seat in the vehicle. As such, employees should be trained on working with different types of wheelchairs as seats in the vehicle, securing occupants in those seats and securing the wheelchair as cargo when it is not in use.
Wheelchair Safety for Passenger Vans – Loading and Unloading
Employees must be trained on how to use the proper equipment to board wheelchairs in passenger vans. This includes understanding how the lift works, operation of the lift and how to position the wheelchair on the lift. If the vehicle uses a different method—like a ramp for loading and unloading—then employees should be trained in using that particular setup.
Generally, an employee should face the rear of the wheelchair toward the vehicle while operating the lift. However, the best practice is to follow the manufacturer’s guidance regarding lift instructions. Another reason to position the rear of the chair toward the vehicle is to keep the weight of the wheelchair closer to the vehicle, which makes the occupant feel more secure and distributes the weight evenly. This position also reduces the risk of pinching or crushing of the occupant’s feet or the chair’s footrests between the vehicle and the lift. In addition, if the wheelchair was rear-facing when loaded, the wheelchair can simply be pushed out from the van during unloading. This requires significantly less maneuvering during the unloading process.
Proper wheelchair securement practices reduce risk to the employer and the chair occupant. – Wheelchair Safety for Passenger Vans
When loading or unloading, the wheelchair brakes should be engaged to prevent the chair from rolling off the platform when the lift is in motion. In the case of powered wheelchairs, the power should be turned off to prevent any issues before operating the lift.
Employees should also make sure that the lift gate is level with the ground before loading a wheelchair onto the lift. This will prevent the wheelchair from rolling prior to locking the brakes on the chair. Employees should ensure that any stops are utilized to prevent rolling issues. If a passenger has a motorized wheelchair, they should not be permitted to drive onto the lift. Rather, someone else should position the wheelchair appropriately on the lift.
If wheelchairs are being used as seats in passenger vehicles, voluntary industry standards should be followed to provide the safest environment for occupants. Employers should follow the American National Standards Institute and the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (ANSI/RESNA) standard WC 19.
Another important safety practice to keep in mind is to make sure employees know how to properly operate the lift to protect themselves from any pinching or crushing injuries. That being said, employers must train their employees on the use of the different lifts for their vehicles.
Specifically, when operating the lift, employees should make sure the occupant keeps their arms and legs within the area of the lift. This prevents any injuries occurring from any moving parts of the lift.
If a lift is not available for loading wheelchairs, then it is recommended that two people are used to load the chair. Depending on the circumstances, an employer should ensure there are two people available or provide the employee driving the passenger van with a vehicle that has a lift. These practices will help protect employees from injury.
Under Department of Transportation (DOT) and Americans with Disability Act (ADA) regulations, all ADA-compliant passenger vans are required to have a two-part securement system to provide to users. The first part of the system should secure the wheelchair (by using the four-point securement method), while the other should provide a seat belt and shoulder harness to secure the wheelchair user. When employees are strapping down the wheelchair, they should always refer to the equipment’s manufacturer instructions to determine whether there are any special requirements for the wheelchair. More often than not, however, the same securement methods can be used for various types of wheelchairs.
Employers should also follow all best practices for securing wheelchairs under ANSI/RESNA. Specifically, ANSI/RESNA WC 18 and WC19 provide employers with standards to follow when wheelchairs are used as seats in motor vehicles, as well as standards to follow regarding wheelchair tie-downs and occupant restraint systems.
Such standards include information on a wide range of wheelchair types and styles. The standard recommends a four-point securement method with strap-type tie-down systems and belt-type occupant restraints. This securement system includes straps to secure the wheelchair and straps to be used for a seat belt and shoulder harness for the wheelchair user. Further, keep in mind that employees should secure the wheelchair by using straps that are directly attached to the floor.
These straps should not be attached to any removable or moving part of the wheelchair. When strapping down a wheelchair with an occupant, employees should make sure the occupant is facing forward in the vehicle, as that is the safest position. According to the ADA, facing wheelchairs to the rear of the vehicle is not permitted in vehicles that weigh under 30,000 pounds, as this can potentially lead to more injuries for the wheelchair occupant. Facing a wheelchair to the side in the vehicle is also not recommended. To secure a wheelchair using the four-point securement method, employees should make sure there are two points in the front that are secured and two in the back. It is very important to properly secure the wheelchair to prevent any risk of the chair moving during a hard stop or an accident.
Straps used to tie down wheelchairs should be rated for securing wheelchairs. They should never be crossed or twisted. Inspections should be completed on the straps prior to each use to ensure they are not frayed and are in good working order.
If a wheelchair is being stored as cargo in a vehicle and not being used as a seat, then it should be stored in a spot within the vehicle where it cannot move during transportation. If that is not the case, then the wheelchair, if possible, should be folded and secured within the vehicle. If the wheelchair cannot be folded, then it should be secured like it would if there were an occupant in it.
Wheelchair Safety for Passenger Vans – Occupant Restraints
The occupant must be secured in the wheelchair in case of an accident. A seat belt will prevent the occupant from being ejected from the chair, protecting them from additional injury. In regard to seat belts, employers should train employees on the best practices for using occupant restraints under the ANSI/RESNA standards in section WC 18.
The seat belt should not go over the armrests or any devices on the wheelchair. All restraints should be used properly. If not, the restraints will not help keep the occupant in place during an accident and could also cause further injuries. Employees should recognize that there will be different positions for different occupants due to the occupant’s height and weight, as well as the type of chair. Failure to restrain a wheelchair properly can cause injury to the occupant.
Lastly, ongoing training is important for employees to make sure that proper care is taken while transporting passengers who require wheelchairs. Not only does training reduce the risk of injury to both the employee and chair occupant, but it also prevents employer liabilities stemming from not properly accommodating those with disabilities under the ADA or other relevant regulations.
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