Prepared to take the Risk?
The views expressed in this column are not those of the National Taxi Association
The taxi trade owe an awful lot to unsung heroes. I am relatively lucky, I can write an article in this magazine and extol my excellence, others, who do infinitely harder work, never get reported on properly. For example, somewhere down the line in the early 1990’s, someone was so upset about buying electrical appliances, getting home and then being faced with fitting a plug, he changed the law and the Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994 (S.I. 1994/1768) came into being (actually it was one of those nasty euro directives – but don’t tell the Daily Mail). Of course, I may have made that bit up. Irrespective, my point still stands, very often it is one person who sees a problem and goes about business quietly gathering the facts and developing an irresistible argument.
So what has the above paragraph got to do with taxis? Well a colleague of mine sent me and various others some rather interesting findings on the loading of wheelchair’s into taxis, whilst some of it has been around for a while, the Edinburgh Taxi Trade did a degree of research a few years ago, the depth of this particular investigation is astounding, citing various legal cross references and giving a quite astonishing insight into the risks many of you perform each day. For this I must offer my thanks in being permitted to borrow research gathered by Les Reid and MR Blackcabs, Manchester’s leading Cab Co.
Okay, the accreditation is now over and on with the article.
You will all hopefully be aware of RISK assessments. The HSE have on their website a RISK assessment guide for private-hire but none for taxis.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommend 5 basic steps (these are explained more deeply in HSE document INDG163(rev3). A web version can be found at: www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg163.pdf)
The five steps are;
- Identify the hazards
- Decide who might be harmed and how
- Evaluate the risks and decide on precaution
- Record your findings and implement them
- Review your assessment and update if necessary
Of course, you may well believe I am making all of this up, the law states;
“It is a legal requirement for every employer and self-employed person to make an assessment of the health and safety risks arising out of his work. The purpose of the assessment is to identify what needs to be done to control health and safety risks. (Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999)”
Although I’ll flirt on this now because I’ll embellish later, you should also try to make yourself aware if the wheelchair is safe to carry in a taxi when the wheelchair bound passenger is still seated in the chair. The majority of wheelchairs have not been crash tested.
Basically, whatever your byelaws may say about offering ‘reasonable’ assistance, you must consider the risk, and you must consider it for all situations you believe will arise. If you wish to be the proverbial ‘knight in shining armour’ you must consider the law will not necessarily protect you if things go wrong.
Okay, so lets get to the issue of loading a wheelchair into a taxi, the first thing a driver must do after doing the aforementioned risk assessment is getting the ramps out. Research suggests vehicle ramps are governed by BS 6109 part 2, the British safety standard. This says that amongst other things ramps should:
- Ramps should be fixed to a vehicle at one end, minimum.
- Ramps should have 20 mm edges fitted to the ramps to stop wheelchairs going off the edge.
- Ramps should be weight tested at least annually to show they can withstand a force of 250 kilograms.
So provided your ramps conform to the BS standard, and have been tested so they can withstand the weight of the wheelchair and occupant under load, we face the task of physically moving the passenger up the ramp (which we are certain wont collapse) and into the vehicle.
Of course now you must, for health and safety purposes, assess the amount of force in Newton Meters you need to move the combined weight of wheelchair and passenger up the ramp. Obviously, to do this you need to know the gradient, well my erstwhile colleague advises the LTI TX vehicles load at an angle of 19 degrees from a flat surface. The Mercedes vehicle loads at an angle of 22 degrees from a flat surface, I know it would be useful, but I cannot advise on the gradients of every wheelchair accessible vehicle, so I apologise for the laziness of my Mancunian friend, although in fairness, they don’t license any other type of Hackney Carriage in Manchester. Although documents do suggest that it should be noted that the maximum gradients for loading wheelchairs on buses should not exceed 7 Degree’s, even at this paltry level Accidents still happen (Transport for London have had 228 accidents over a four year period, loading wheelchairs on board buses, 47 have resulted in Hospitalisation)
For those of you who have stayed with me to this point here’s what my colleague sent me when I sent him the original draft of this article;
The mathematics for other vehicles is easy to do, it consists of a couple of variables and the fixed sum of 9.81, which is Newton’s calculation for the force of gravity at the earth’s surface. I give you the following example when calculating a LTI TX vehicle.
H = the height you need to reach to the vehicle surface, where the W.C finally rest. (On the TX vehicles that is 15 inches)
RS = the length of the SURFACE area of the ramp, along which the W.C. is pushed. (On TX and Vito’s that is 49 inches )
W = the combined weight of the passenger and the W.C. added together.
If we take the median weight of the sample taken from 750 Wheelchair bound disabled at the Birmingham conference i.e. 117 kilo’s combined (chair and person) we get the following;
w= 117 x N=9.81 x H 15 = 17216.55 we divide that answer by the length of the ramp surface;
17216.55 / 49 = 351.35 (approx to point 2 of the decimal).
The force required is therefore 351 Newton’s, three and a half times the safe average.
This calculation can be used on any vehicle using these variables, online force calculators are available if you wish to check. I got this method from a long lost ancestor who used it to design the Pyramids, while on a short break in Ancient Egypt.
As advice goes, the HSE advice, combined with a diploma (with honours) in mathematics would be quite useful, the HSE document “Getting to grips with Manual handling”  (page 11) gives more information on that given above. It shows the amount of sustained force which can be safely used to push a wheelchair up a slope. That limit is equal to 100 Newton’s (10 kilos). Evidently to assess the force required you’ll need to know the gradient of slope you’re pushing up – as well as the weight of the passenger in metric (nothing like imperial / metric measurements to confuse you during these periods).
Obviously, you need to extract using all possible tact, the weight of the customer. If you follow the route of my colleague in Carlisle, using the ratio of Cream Cakes consumed by the passenger, a cream cake to weight type conversion scenario, this may lead to a 1 month suspension. So it may be worth using a little diplomacy at the time of the risk assessment, for example, suggest you’ve been going to weight watchers – tell them your weight, keeping the calculator out of sight when politely enquiring as to theirs.
As my colleague from Manchester points out, it is not what you can lift, it is what you can safely lift.
I don’t really want to get deeply into the ‘duty of care’ arguments here, space is limited and the topic is worthy of an article in its own right. You do have a ‘Duty of Care’ to the passenger in the case of loading a wheelchair, and sometimes this duty will extend (at some point) to not being able to accept hires – thus throwing you into a contradiction with your byelaws which insist you must offer reasonable assistance – however byelaws are not primary legislation unlike Health and Safety law.
More worryingly the HSE state; “Employees should enlist help from another worker whenever necessary if they have to negotiate a slope or ramp, as pushing and pulling forces can be very high.” Unfortunately, unless you start to employ someone specifically to follow you around each time you drive your cab – I can’t see this particular bit of advice being useful. Indeed, to fully understand their booklet, you may need to take a few night classes – because I looked at it and instantly start crying.
If you wish to weep yourselves, you should consider the DfT commissioned ESRI and Ricability to undertake research on the ergonomics of taxi design and the features that would make taxis accessible to the largest number of disabled people. This research was undertaken in two phases and both Phase 1 (literature review and pilot evaluation trial) and Phase II (full scale evaluation trials) reports are available together with a summary leaflet. The findings will help inform the development of a technical specification on which future taxi accessibility regulations will be based, although this stuff is pretty old now.
To further complicate the issue, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) published Guidance on the Safe Transportation of Wheelchairs – DB 2001(03). I do actually recommend the MRHA document to you all.
Presuming all of the above has been done correctly you now need to secure the wheelchair according to the vehicle manufacturers instructions. All vehicles are inherently different, and a good number utilise so many belts it would keep a dominatrix occupied for a week. Presuming you’ve then tied the wheelchair passenger in securely, you need to drive to the destination, and presumably hope, through your skill and knowledge, you don’t have an accident on route.
Sadly the majority of wheelchairs are not designed for carriage in vehicles whilst the passenger is still seated in the chair; you should perhaps worry about what will happen in the event of an accident. About this time you may wish to read two further documents, firstly the 214 page report by the Transport Research Laboratory from 2008, the imaginatively titled “The safety of child wheelchair occupants in road transport vehicles” and the 144 page by the Transport Research Laboratory from 2003, “The safety of wheelchair occupants in road transport vehicles”.
The test for children states on page 84; “most manufacturers will say that their wheelchairs should be used forward facing only”, it states on page 90; “Some wheelchairs deformed or failed which suggested that a child would be at risk of injury”.
The standard test from the 2003 document states on page 32: “In general the wheelchair seated occupant was at a greater risk of injury than the vehicle seated occupant. All injury criteria showed an increased level of risk up to double that of an occupant seated in a baseline vehicle seat with a head restraint”
Before you say, accidents in taxis with wheelchairs rarely happen, there have been numerous incidents and accidents, some involving injuries and at least one fatality.
- In Hartlepool in 2005, the operator of a dial a ride service was prosecuted for negligence following fatal incident where the passenger sustained fatal head injuries in fall from rear tail lift of welfare bus.
- Staffordshire County Council were fined £83,000 in 2008 after a 90-year-old woman was fatally injured when her wheelchair rolled off the back of a minibus. An HSE investigation revealed that council staff had never checked that the wheelchair was safe and the council had no checking procedure.
- A charity was fined £15,000 in 2006 after a pensioner died after from being thrown from wheelchair on a minibus. The HSE commented; “The seatbelt laws have long been established in British law. The charity was aware that people transported in wheelchairs should have these effectively secured and the wheel chair user should have an adequate seatbelt.”
- In Calderdale in a boy was thrown from his wheelchair inside a taxi, in a long line of errors the prosecution against the driver was eventually dropped when it went to trial. The driver secured the wheelchair in the taxi but forgot to fasten a seatbelt.
- In February last year Age Concern Westminster, (were found guilty of) breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,000. After a wheelchair bound pensioner died in one of their vehicles.
- A 14-year old boy was tragically killed in Birmingham in 2009 after his wheelchair tipped over after being loaded incorrectly.
Of course the point of this article isn’t to instigate training courses, because as my colleague from Manchester points out, no amount of training is going to allow you to load a wheelchair if you are unable to push the chair up the ramp.
Bearing in mind the above……is it worth the risk?