A webinar from wheelchair restraint manufacturer Q’straint near the beginning of the school year shared ways student transporters can ensure the safety of wheelchair-bound school bus riders.
Darren Reaume, the company’s national training manager, presented the Mobility Device Securement Training Webinar in late August to teach “universal principles that apply to every mode of transportation, securement equipment and wheelchair.”
“Proper securement can save lives & prevent injury, even when everything else goes wrong,” said Reaume. To prove this point, he cited a recent rollover crash in which passengers were correctly secured. Six passengers survived, including one who was in a wheelchair that ended up upside-down. On the other hand, Reaume cautioned, improper securement can result in incidents even during routine driving.
He informed listeners that a complete securement system includes floor anchorages, wheelchair restraints and occupant securements.
Floor anchorages can attach to the floor via an L-track, which offers flexibility in providing several points of attachment, or through a "Slide ‘N Click," which leaves less room for operator error.
Wheelchair restraints can be as “prehistoric” as the manual securements that look like "S" or "J" hooks on a belt, or as advanced as the WC18-compliant QRT-360 and Titan800 retractors. In the middle are the semi-automatic Standard Locking Retractors which must be manually tightened and Automatic Retractors which are fully automatic, self-tensioning and self-locking.
When securing a wheelchair to the bus, center the wheelchair and make sure the shoulder belt is above and behind the passenger. Reaume said that rear retractors go inside the wheels, while front retractors go outside the wheels for stability and rider comfort.
Reaume gave three principles to follow for a safe securement. First, the S/J hooks must be attached to what is “in your opinion, the sturdiest part of the chair,” Reaume instructed—a solid or welded frame member, not one that is plastic or removable. Secondly, each floor securement must be attached to the chair and stretch to the ground optimally at a 45-degree angle. Third, they should go from the wheelchair to the floor “in a straight line and not through wheels, armrests, or cross belts.”
“Do all three and you can be reasonably sure you have a guaranteed securement and it’s going to be safe to transport,” said Reaume. Once the wheelchair has been secured, he added, release the wheel locks and check for movement, then reapply them.
“If you secure the chair but not the rider you’ve just turned it into a regular bus seat,” warned Reaume. The lap-shoulder seat belt, which is attached to the rear securement, goes tightly across the pelvis and should not be allowed to ride up. The shoulder belt needs to be properly adjusted so it doesn’t lie on the neck or arm, and the seat belt release should be on the aisle side at the rider’s hip. Additionally, seat belts should go directly against the rider’s body, never over armrests or wheels.
Finally, when securing students, smile, be friendly, and explain to them what you’re doing, he added.