Saturday, 20 February 2010
Stoke on Trent and Newcastle under Lyme's only STAIRLIFT show house at Wolstanton village, was the scene of a major drama yesterday. It went up in flames! The little house next to Castle Comfort's main showroom has for years been a private home of Stairlifts expert and owner of the CCC Group - Keith Simpson. Clients wanting to do a 'try before they buy' always find a ride on a real stairlift much better then DVDs or brochure to help make an important decision.
A fire that started in the kitchen washing machine gutted the house within minutes. Only due to Castle Comfort staff discovering the disaster early and the response within minutes of Stafford shire fire services, the house and possibly adjoining ones in the street were not completely destroyed.
Remarkably, despite the total internal damage - the working display Acorn/Brooks stairlift and a reconditioned Stannah curved lift, remained in full working use - and after a wipe down this popular Midlands chair lift company is still operating as normal.
We'll present shortly, a few alarming facts about the fire risk involved with washing machines and other appliances in the home upon which we all depend. But first - the two hours spent by twenty emergency services staff yesterday, was concluded by the hilarious tale of the first firefighter who charged into the house with his mask, headgear and hosepipe look for the source of ignition. He announced, after the drama subsided, to the roars of laughter of all present, that he could see little through the thick black smoke engulfing the lounge, other than the stairs situated just inside the front door as he entered. So ran up them. However, he quickly realised after taking about eight steps he would have gone nowhere, other than to the ceiling of the lounge ... he was going up the steps built for curved stair lift model!! So he came back down and went into the kitchen to put the fire out.
Now to less amusing facts. Is it safe to leave the washing machine on while out or in bed?
Many washing machines now come with delayed start features. This shows the manufacturers are happy for the washing machine to be used totally unattended. However, cases of washing machines (and other white goods such as dishwashers and tumble dryers) catching fire still occur. Government fire safety advice is to not to leave white goods unattended - CHECK YOUR HOME: Before Bed Routine (Government fire safety site)
Always at least have a smoke alarm fitted near to the washing machine (or other white goods appliance) if it is left on and unattended. However, this could be impractical if they are in a kitchen due to the nuisance alarms from cooking
The Trading Standards site has an excellent list of safety related product recalls which covers virtually all appliances in the home. It's well worth book-marking and checking regularly as it covers all safety issues on all consumer goods - even food mixers.
Some old washing machines (at least over 10 years) have no protection against overheating. If the timer or thermostat fails, it can boil the water inside. Your clothes could be reduced to pulp and the wallpaper in the kitchen could peel off. The other main risk is flooding. Most washing machines have a third level on the pressure switch (the pressure switch controls the water levels in the machine) This third level switch is supposed to protect against overfilling by energizing the water pump if the water level rises dangerously above normal. This will work fine if the cause of an overfilling machine is a fill valve that has failed to turn off. However, the majority of overfilling machines are caused by a blockage in the pressure system. This safety feature will not work if a blockage stops air entering the pressure tubing. This amounts to having no real overfilling protection at all. Finally flooding could occur through a leak.
Many people like to set their washing machine to come on during the night to use off-peak electricity through economy 7 ( further comment and information on my blog - Economy 7 and white goods ) If you are prepared to risk doing this then make sure you set it to come on as late as possible so that you will be up not long after the machine has finished. UPDATE: Most modern washing machines are now controlled totally electronically by software built into the main PCB. Such a machine will typically have selector buttons and LCD or LED displays. Some of them may still have control knob selectors, but unlike the old ones, when you turn them they don't click round (no cogs inside) and don't have the same resistance to turn that they used to. Instead they electronically send instructions to the main PCB power module. These washing machines have much better safety protection and will normally abort if they detect over heating for example. The computer style programs they use will time out (causing an abort of the programme and an error code to display or be indicated by flashing lights) if it takes too long to fill, empty or heat the water. They can even abort the programme if the load is unbalanced.
These washing machines are much safer than the old ones, but clearly none are infallible and electrical short circuits or overheating connections could still cause a fire! Fire risks in appliances (Whitegoodshelp Blog article)
To conclude - the frightening thing about this event is that the washing machine in the stair lift was not switched on when it caught fire. It was plugged in to a live 13 amp socket - but not in use. So who knows what can happen? For instance, a young man named Lupton - our contact at a Stairlifts company in Yorkshire - was recently woken up by a smoke alarm at home when his
heated and illuminated fish tank ignited !!
Back to the stairlift house.That machine in the house was bought second hand 8 years ago so it was at least 10 years old. However, the mystery with this one is the bloody thing had never been used in eight years and wasn't even switched on when it ignited !!??
The insurance loss adjuster who came from Stafford to Castle Comfort Stairlifts to see the damage was asked if he personally always unplugs washing machines and other devices when not in use and he replied 'without fail'. He has seen too many cases like ours.
To repeat - that machine had never been used and as you can see here - it never will be.
Hotfrog to us
NEWSFLASH - Any dance hall ravers in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire during the 60s and 70s - (who may well be users of stairlifts now) will be sad at the lost of someone as indestructible as this stairlift - EDDIE FENTON founder of the Adulte Ballroom in Burslem, The Crystal Ballroom (later renamed Tiffany's) in Newcastle under Lyme and many more dancing institutions. Eddie was a friend and client of Castle Comfort. A gentleman worthy of legend status.
ON THE SUBJECT OF A OF CRISIS - WE ARE OFEN ASKED ABOU THE SAFETY OF STAIRLIFTS.
Well, the Castle Comfort Team have composed the following interesting and informative article -
Going Up in the World – are stair lifts safe?
To most people, the expression ‘going up in the world’ usually applies to personal ambition. It may imply promotion at work, financial enhancement or steps up the social ladder.
For others, with impaired mobility, going up in the world can literarily mean the ability to move safely up and down stairs from one level of the house to another. Falls in the home, especially on stairs, account for a large proportion of injuries or even deaths each year. When restricted mobility, or breathing difficulties, makes climbing and descending stairs not just a struggle, but a very real hazard, tens of thousands of people benefit from the installation of a stairlift. I have experienced the trauma felt by an elder member of my family, following a simple fall, resulting in a seriously broken leg. She lives on her own and we all knew that a difficult staircase was going to present a worry. The gentle suggestion that a stairlift may be a good idea, resulted in this question - ‘Are stairlifts safe?’ Never having had cause to think about such an issue, I decided to try to find the answer so that I could offer some informed opinion.
Statistically, the answer is yes, they are, provided that some obvious conditions are applied. As with any mechanical device, from an aircraft to a tin-opener, freak accidents can and do occur. The incidence of accidents involving stairlifts, seen against the number of installations, happily seems to be very rare indeed. The horrific fact is that such accidents which have happened were probably avoidable, had the correct procedures and safe-guards been applied. Stairlifts are safe but, as with any equipment, the rules must be stringently applied by both the industry and the user. Manufacturers and suppliers cannot legislate for what happens once the equipment is installed and in the hands of the user.
It is essential to buy the right quality product from an experienced and reliable supplier, with an expert maintenance and service engineer on hand locally for a quick response to any problem. The dearest or the cheapest are not necessarily the best; there is no such thing as a ‘free-lunch’ where safety is the primary issue.
Let us take an analytical look at some accidents which have appeared in the headlines implicating stairlifts.
In Stoke-on-Trent, a stairlift owner tragically died in an avoidable accident on the stairs. The lady, who was only fifty-five, was found dead by her daughter, an appalling experience for anyone and she has my sympathy. It seems that her mother had fallen, resulting in her head becoming trapped between the wall and the stirlift rail. The headline could have implied that somehow the stairlift was a factor in the accident, but this was not the case. An inquest was told that In spite of her severe physical problems, the lady never used the stairlift and walked on the stairs, having expressed the fear that she would lose the use of her legs. Clearly, her stairlift was not to blame. Had she used the lift, the accident may not have happened. With the greatest of respect, it has to be noted that she had been in the habit of the regular excessive consumption of alcohol. The coroner ruled that to be a factor in the accident, not the stairlift.
It hardly requires an A level in the blindingly obvious to know that the installation of a stairlift must never be a task for an amateur. We all try our hand at DIY, with variable success, but I am left incredulous by the next incident, reported in ‘The Shropshire Star’ (July 2007)
Tragically the result was the instant death of a six year old boy who was playing on a stairlift whilst visiting the home of his great-grandmother. All stairlifts have a key to immobilise the motor and when children are in the house it is essential that the stairlift cannot be activated, Children must never be allowed to play on a lift as if it is something akin to a ride at a fun fair. Currently, U-Tube is carrying a clip entitled ‘Lads mucking about on a stairlift’. The ‘humour’ appears to be a shot of one guy falling off. These idiots are actually young adults! Stairlifts are not designed for ‘mucking about’.
This accident was the direct result of faulty installation by someone who had no idea how to carry out the work. It seems that the boy’s uncle had removed the stairlift from another house and installed it in the new location with no professional assistance or even a manual. In the original installation, the equipment was installed on left side of the stairs. In the new location it was installed on the right. This meant that the obstruction contact strip, an essential safety device, was rendered inoperative.
A consultant forensic engineer told the inquest that some of the safety devices were not working properly – “If they had been, we would not be here today.” The boy’s head was pressing against trips which meant that the lift could not reverse and free him. This was another tragedy which could have been avoided by simple common sense.
The next example was the failure of the equipment but as a result of other possible factors.
MailOnline June 15th 2010
‘Great grand-mother, 90, dies after being catapulted from faulty stairlift’
The report recorded that an inquest was told that a great-grandmother died in hospital just three days after being catapulted 20ft down the stairs in her home in Barnsley by a faulty stairlift. The lady was spun round in the chair and tipped out headfirst after restraining bolts on the seat sheared off.
Her family told a hearing in Sheffield that they had reported a ‘whining noise’ and ‘juddering’ with the mechanism a week earlier but the company maintaining the stairlift had not sent out an engineer.
The lady’s grand-daughter told the inquest that she was putting the seat belt round her gran, but, before she could do it, the chair swung round and tipped her over, causing her to fall down the stairs from top to bottom.
Police attended and were of the opinion that the stairs gradient was too steep for the type of lift. There was evidence of more than five years wear and tear on the machine which had been installed as new in July 2006. An engineer who carried out an inspection after the accident confirmed two of the retaining screws on the seat had sheared off. He also believed that the seat belt had not been regularly used.
The inquest heard that Barnsley Council had awarded the contract to a company to supply and fit stairlifts. However, the company had sub-contracted the installation and maintenance to another firm.
Two independent experts told the hearing the seat belt failed but they disagreed as to whether it was the design or the fitting. A director of the company told the court that after the tragedy they had contacted all users of stairlifts on their books and had removed all seat belts and put new ones on which were tightened up.
I am not qualified to make, nor do I make any judgement, implied or otherwise. The facts are those from the inquest, as reported in the Daily Mail article. Both companies named in the press are currently trading on the internet.
I return to my question – “Are stair lifts safe?”
My conclusion – Yes, but follow the key points.
THE CHAIRLIFT CODE
C Company – a reputable supplier with proven track record is a must
H Have correct professional installation – NO DIY
A Arrange a regular service contract to ensure reliability and safety
I Insist that kids keep off - keep it locked
R Responsible user – care and common sense at all times
L Listen to expert opinion
I Investigate the options – what is best for you and your staircase
F Follow all safety procedures
T Take care on every journey
Follow the rules and you will be ‘going up in the world’ safely and with confidence.
To end on a lighter note-
A very little guy, wearing a very little green suit and a very little green hat was seen going up and down on a stairlift in a Stoke on Trent Stairlifts showroom. When asked what he was doing he explained that he was carrying out an elf and safety inspection!