Windows that need to be safe in every respect

Specifying windows in the mental healthcare sector is challenging. Mark Clemson, sales and marketing director of architectural glazing systems manufacturer Kawneer UK, explains how developments in fenestration techniques are addressing the most exacting demands of health authorities

Secure recovery units for mental health patients present unique challenges to architects and healthcare organisations. While the security and safety of the patients is critical to the design of these facilities, specifiers have to consider the need for natural light and ventilation.

From a security point of view, the best window is one that cannot be opened. However, this is rarely a practical option. A sealed building, reliant on an expensive and wasteful air conditioning system for ventilation, is not a healthy or normal environment for any patient.

The key challenge is to design a window which is secure, safe and capable of delivering natural daylight and ventilation to meet the needs of the occupants.

Working in partnership with several healthcare trusts across the UK, horizontal sliding windows with anti-ligature features have been developed to be eminently suitable for use within the mental healthcare sector. The result is a window that is simple to use, cost effective and flexible with patients’ needs, simultaneously assuring their safety and well-being.

Offering excellent weather performance, these windows do not open into the room to give patients greater opportunity to self-harm and they do not contain a glazing bead that can be removed and used as a weapon or for self-harm. They are easily and economically installed, factory-made, modular units designed to withstand severe and sustained attack from both inside and out.

Safe and secure locking is achieved by means of a concealed system with a 125mm opening (locking at 100mm to be compliant with Health Building Note 00-10 Part D and BS 8213 is also a popular option). In addition, the use of a perforated stainless steel mesh affords ventilation, visibility and security. This also stops the potential flow of contraband material in or out of the window. The mesh can be safely opened to allow the windows to be cleaned. They are available in a wide range of guaranteed colours for optimum design flexibility.

Rather than being manufactured to a rigid product specification, healthcare-specific windows are purpose-built to the requirements of each installation. A broad array of systems with different security levels are offered, all tailor-made to the requirements of the NHS on a job-by-job basis.

Because of the specialist nature of this type of window, training and certification is available to fabricators specialising in the mental healthcare sector, ensuring that window integrity is maintained throughout the installation phase and ultimately providing the specifier with peace of mind on the risk management front.

The healthcare sector is a uniquely challenging field, especially considering the sheer breadth of patient needs. Fabricators are constantly working in conjunction with manufacturers to fine tune product capabilities to match architects’ and clients’ specific requirements.

NHS trusts have been instrumental in progressively identifying what they need windows to achieve in this application. Experience gained on projects has frequently led to the identification of desired additional features and introduction of innovative bespoke solutions.

Each trust has its own testing criteria, depending on patients’ needs. A wide range of practical tests have therefore been developed to accurately assess the security performance of each prototype bespoke design. The tests exceed any perceived patient attack level and test every physical aspect of the window, including frame, mesh and glass.

For example, window panels must remain intact when subject to an initial fire extinguisher attack. Multiple strikes using a snooker ball in a sock are also applied which must result in limited sash and frame damage, with no damage to the toughened glass.

Following these attacks, glazing has to stay intact while subject to blows from various items of room furniture and attire. Knives, forks or spoons are then used in an attempt to remove window parts. This test is only deemed successful if nothing is removed.

Test personnel then stand on furniture at window level, kicking the window and frame. The window, sashes and toughened glazing must all remain in-situ. Keys, pens, belt buckles or human fingers are subsequently used to try and remove gaskets and seals – only small sections of gasket less than 10mm long may be withdrawn at any one time.

Repeated pushing, pulling, deflecting and distorting of window restrictors is carried out, demanding that everything, including fittings, remains intact and firmly fixed. Further attacks to window fittings and attempts to lift sashes out of frames must result in zero removals. Finally, ligatures should not be formed following attempts to create a ligature point using various tools.

The end result of these developments in fenestration techniques is a versatile and wide range of anti-ligature, horizontal-sliding windows fully capable of meeting any likely current or future challenge in this most exacting healthcare sector.