5 Tips for Specifying Hoists for SEN Schools

There are over 1,000 special educational needs (SEN) schools in the UK. These SEN schools educate and care for children with a wide range of needs. Students may have physical disabilities, social and behavioural impairments, and/or learning disabilities.

To keep students and staff safe, whilst providing quality education, they need the right facilities and equipment.

Hoists are often included in SEN school designs. For children with mobility impairments, a hoist is essential for getting around the school. They make transfers between classrooms, to the toilet, into hydrotherapy pools, etc. quicker, simpler, and more comfortable for the student and the staff. Plus, it means children who use power wheelchairs aren’t restricted to their chair all day.

So, if you’re designing or refurbishing a SEN school, what kind of hoist system should you be looking for? One of our equipment specialists, Bob Oliver, has shared his five top recommendations when specifying hoists for SEN schools.

1)    Maximise room coverage

In one classroom, you might have multiple children who require hoisted transfers. Each child will be taking part in different activities in different areas throughout the day.

That’s why you need a hoist system with maximum room coverage. You can’t guarantee where the pick-up points will be.

What’s a pick-up point? A pick-up point is a location in the room that the hoist can safely pass over to facilitate a transfer.

By maximising the room coverage, you maximise the number of pick-up points!

For classrooms in SEN schools, we recommend H-frame hoist systems. They provide full room coverage.

Ceiling track hoist system with H-frame
A H-frame system, or X-Y system, consists of three pieces rather than one single rail. There are two parallel fixed rails and one perpendicular moving traverse rail.

That means a student can be safely transferred from anywhere in the room, straight away.

If they are playing in one corner of the room, you can simply move the hoist unit along the track, position it overhead, and perform the transfer. There’s no need to worry about moving the child to a pick-up point or move a heavy mobile hoist over to them.

For similar reasons, we also recommend H-frame hoists in hygiene rooms.

H-frame hoist in hygiene room SEN school

A student can be easily transferred from their wheelchair to the toilet, changing bench, sink, or wherever is needed around the room. That makes personal care much more convenient and dignified.

Download a free copy of our Specifier’s Guide to Hoist Systems to learn more about H-frames:

2)    Choose a system that can connect multiple rooms

Did you know you can use hoist systems to move room to room?

This is ideal in SEN schools where children are moving between classrooms, sensory rooms, and other areas all day!

We use transit couplings to easily connect hoist systems between rooms.

A transit coupling acts like a gate through the doorway.

Simply line the traverse rail up with the transit coupling, wait two seconds, and the sensors and magnets do the rest.

An automatic safety lock stops the rail from moving as you pass through the gate. Once you’re safely through, it unlocks and you’re free to move around the next room as normal.

When we work with SEN schools, they typically like to use transit couplings between classrooms and hygiene rooms. This is ideal if there are children with incontinence issues. They can quickly transfer from the classroom straight to hygiene room, so children are kept clean and comfortable.

3)    Minimise the number of staff needed to operate the hoist

Staffing is often an issue for SEN schools when using hoists. There are lots of children to look after. So, sparing several members of staff every time a hoisted transfer is needed can be tricky.

We recommend using smooth glide tracking and high-quality track components to minimise how many staff are needed to operate the hoist system.

You want connections that are smooth and easy to operate with minimal personnel.

The shape of Airglide360 tracking is specially designed to provide the smooth, quiet movement with optimal control.

Some inset hoist track with a traverse rail spanning perpendicular.
Airglide360 hoist track

Children especially tend to move around in the sling during transfers. So, when you’re using track components (like transit couplings) you need to ensure the hoist doesn’t move or stop if there’s movement.

That’s why we use a magnet and infrared system. The advanced technology means the hoist will continue to move steadily along the track, even if there’s movement in the sling.

Our hoist systems have been tested with child and adult users to ensure smooth and steady movement

If it’s permitted in your moving and handling guidelines, these hoist systems can actually be operated by single staff member!

4)    Choose a fixed hoist unit – not a detachable one

SEN schools are often sold detachable hoist units, with the idea they can then move the unit between rooms as needed.

However, we don’t recommend this for several reasons:

  1. It means the hoist might not be operational when you need it.If you have tracking in every room, but only a few detachable hoist units, you can’t perform a transfer quickly in an emergency.In a fire drill, or a genuine evacuation, you don’t want to have to find an available hoist unit before you can safely get the children out of the building.

    Even on a day-to-day basis, moving hoist units between rooms quickly becomes time consuming for staff.

  2. It makes hoisted transfers less comfortable for studentsWith a detachable hoist unit, the whole body of the unit hangs down from the ceiling. Then, you can attach the sling directly to the unit – rather than using a spreader bar.This may not sound like an issue, but it can be very distressing for children. It means the whole unit is in front of them as they are being hoisted.

    It makes it hard to see where they are going and can make people feel as if the hoist is going to hit them.

AirLifter Portable Hoist Unit
As you can see, the whole body of the detachable hoist unit hangs down. This isn’t always practical in an SEN school setting.

Having a large unit in the way also makes it harder for staff to support and soothe the student during the transfer.

On the other hand, a fixed hoist unit sits much higher up against the track. Then, you do use a spreader bar to attach the sling.

With a fixed hoist unit, only the spreader bar hangs down from the ceiling

In a school setting, this is much better for keeping students calm and comfortable during transfers. There’s less obstructions and they can have more contact with the staff member supporting them.

5)    For pool rooms, find a hoist that’s compatible with that environment!

Our final tip applies to SEN schools with hydrotherapy pools.

When you’re specifying a hoist for transfers in and out of the pool, there are a few extra considerations you should make.

It’s critical to choose a hoist system that’s compatible with a humid and chlorinated environment.

Hoist systems for hydrotherapy pool rooms require some additional features that SEN schools should bear in mind

Our Airglide360 tracking comes powder coated as standard. This provides tough anti-corrosive protection.

Without these extra defences, metal hoist tracking can become rusty and corroded in a humid pool room.

With the AirRise hoist units, you can opt for a coated circuit to get extra anti-corrosive protection for all hoist unit components.

Taking the extra precautions from the beginning will protect your hoist system long-term! This can seriously reduce maintenance costs over the years.

Best hoist system for SEN Schools

So, what’s the best hoist system for SEN schools?

We always recommend H-frame Airglide track and an AirRise unit as a starting point. It ticks all the boxes we’ve discussed above. Plus, it offers additional benefits like battery protection to cut down long-term maintenance costs by maintaining battery condition and reminding you when they need charging.

Then we can customise the exact room layout and recommend different hoist unit weight limits to suit your needs.

It’s important to remember about LOLER testing. Hoist systems must be tested every 6 months to ensure they still operate safely. We can set up service contracts after all hoist installs to ensure your servicing and maintenance are taken care of!

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