WHICH ACCESS SOLUTION DO I NEED?
There are a wide range of access solutions available, from simple ramps all the way up to hydraulic lifts, with something to suit all environments. Often these will be required for a business or building to comply with the Equality Act 2010 (formerly the DDA) to overcome stairs and other obstacles for the less able, but a business may need an access solution for a variety of reasons, including improving flow and safety within the building.
With such a wide range of options available, we’ve got the low down on the pros, cons and best environments for each type of lift to make sure you get the access solution that you need without breaking the bank.
HANDRAILS: BASIC ACCESS SOLUTIONS
Handrails are an ideal solution on a short flight of stairs where a low cost solution is required to improve safety. A handrail may be a simple solution to reduce the risk of slips and falls, but when it comes to disabled wheelchair users or prams, they don’t add an awful lot of value.
A handrail is not only required on stairs – they are commonly found in places like disabled toilets to give extra support. If a handrail is being used on a staircase, it should be alongside another option for maximum access and safety.
Use me when: there is another access solution for the less ambulant, but higher safety or support is needed.
Don’t use me when: access for wheelchair users is specifically required and stair safety features are already in place
RAMPS: IS A RAMP ENOUGH FOR MY BUSINESS?
Ramps provide another low cost solution to access issues, and also allow for disabled users and prams to access higher levels and floors.
Under the Building Regulations (Part M), A ramp must:
- Have a maximum gradient of 1:20 at 10m and 1:15 at 5m
- Have a non-slip surface
- Be 1.5m wide (unobstructed)
- Maximum individual flight of 10m
Whilst it is a budget access solution, ramps require a lot of space, and cannot go very high. For a short rise of 3-5 steps, for example at a building entrance, a ramp may be the best option – not least as they are 100% waterproof!
Use me when: there is a short flight of stairs to overcome, and a budget option is required where space is not an issue
Don’t use me when: there is no space, the height is over 10m, and multiple floors are being accessed
ESCALATORS: WHEN IS AN ESCALATOR THE BEST OPTION?
Commonly found in shopping centres, train stations and airports, escalators are basically moving staircases to carry passengers between floors. When there is a high volume of users, the constant movement of the escalator makes it very efficient over a lift, and much faster than a staircase. Prams and buggies can use escalators usually, and they can be great for guiding people in a direction you want them to go (e.g. towards an exit, next room, platform etc) and helping to reduce people congestion by keeping everyone moving.
Escalators are generally modular by design but are heavy in total so a high load bearing floor will be needed. They take quite a while to plan, prepare, order and install – around 12-14 weeks on a typical project – and require a pit beneath the floor and beneath the top section for machinery.
Whilst disabled wheelchair users cannot use an escalator, those who are less mobile or who are carrying goods (like prams, equipment, boxes) are able to utilise it fully. With a handrail already there, and no need for movement from passengers, they are a safe option in comparison to taking the stairs.
Use me when: there are high volumes of people going between floors (where wheelchair users have another transport method), efficiency is key, and there is a large amount of space and solid flooring available.
Don’t use me when: There is limited space, low volume of users or mezzanine floors.
STAIRLIFTS: CAN A STAIR LIFT PROVIDE ENOUGH ACCESS?
Stairlifts come in a few different forms. There are chair stairlifts, and platform stair lifts (which allow a wheelchair to sit on a platform). Made famous by Stannah, the stairlift is generally found in private homes, but also in manor houses, flats, theatres and other environments.
Stairlifts feature folding panels meaning they can be stored out of the way and only put down when required for use. Attached to a staircase, they are a small and simple solution where there is only one floor of travel. Some stairlifts are able to go around corners too, making them ideal for areas with minimum space and curved staircases.
Stairlifts are not designed to be used regularly, and can only carry one passenger at a time so are not great if there are high volumes of users. They also often block the staircase whilst in use, so reduce the flow within the building. Whilst they do not cost much, and take only a few hours to install, they are slow (around 0.1m/s) and cannot be utilised by other potential users (e.g. prams).
It is worth noting that the fire department does not recommend use of a stairlift when a platform or conventional lift is possible – a fire escape route cannot be blocked so they are generally only recommended on wide staircases.
Use me when: space is minimal for installing another solution, cost needs to be low, stairs are wide, usage will be low and the solution is required quickly.
Don’t use me when: there will be lots of users, access is required for prams and other ambulant users, the stairlift will cause a fire hazard or block exits, the stairs are very narrow.
PLATFORM LIFTS: WHEN WOULD I NEED A PLATFORM LIFT?
Platform lifts are an ideal access solution for wheelchair users, and provide a safe and familiar transport method. Platform lifts can be open platform (the walls don’t move as you go up) or enclosed cabin platforms, which look and feel exactly like a conventional lift.
Platform lifts use a screw and nut to move, with a small motor driving the screw up and down. All the machinery is behind the platform, which means each floor can have doors on any or all of 3 sides. They use less energy to complete a cycle than boiling a kettle, and operate using single phase – a normal socket. Platform Lifts are suitable for people and goods, and special additions can be added for goods like a bump curb.
Platform lifts are happier when used more often, so are ideal for high use environments like retail or offices. They are governed by the machinery directive, which means that an open platform lift has a constant pressure button to go up or down, and the speed is limited to 0.15m/s. Enclosed cabin platform lifts have single touch operation, exactly like a conventional lift.
Due to the speed restriction (and potential numb fingers!) we do not recommend using them over about 13m (6 floors), but for less than this the travel time is negligible in comparison to conventional lifts – this fits about 85-90% of all projects. A platform lift takes around 22 seconds between floors, compared to 18 seconds for a conventional lift.
Passenger platform lifts take around 3-4 days to install using a modular system. Platform lifts don’t require a pit or head fixing, making them ideal for use in tall buildings and stairwells. The footprint of the lift is the size of the shaft, and can be as small as a wardrobe or airing cupboard if required.
Use me when: a lift is required for up to 13m travel, a lower cost solution is required, a small footprint is required, building works on site are not possible, retrofitting, more than one exit direction required, energy efficiency is important, multiple sides required for entry/exit.
Don’t use me when: over 13m travel required or number of cycles is over 20 in one hour (very high use, e.g. hospitals, hotels), high speed is important.
CONVENTIONAL LIFTS: IS A CONVENTIONAL LIFT SUITABLE FOR MY BUSINESS?
Conventional lifts are a recognised and comfortable environment for passengers, and provide plenty of space for a wheelchair as well as other passengers. Conventional lifts are perfect for very high use environments like hospitals or hotels, where the lifts are in constant use. The higher speed allowance under the Lift Directive makes them great for high rise or 6+ floors, and larger sizes and load ratings are available in comparison to a platform lift.
Conventional hydraulic lifts use a pulley system to basically move a box up and down, with a counterweight system including a motor, 2 hydraulic rams and a hydraulic pump. Traction lifts also use a counterweight but use a steel rope which is rolled over a pulley with deep grooves (called a Sheave).
Whilst being a fast and efficient transport method, they do require a lot of planning and space. Conventional lifts need a deep pit for oil, a large amount of headroom, head fixing, machine room and pump box housing, and a block shaft in place. The lead time is around 12-14 weeks, with around a month of installation time. A load bearing floor is required, and they are the most expensive option available.
Generally a conventional lift needs to be installed at building stage, with a large amount of building works required – however retrofitting is possible. It is worth noting that only the same two sides of a conventional lift can have a door in on each floor.
Use me when: travel is greater than 13m, there will be high use (more than 20 cycles each hour), a high speed transport method is required
Don’t use me when: major building works on site are not possible, space is limited, cost needs to be low, quick lead time and installation is needed, different exit sides are required on each floor.