When is a platform lift appropriate? Crispin Satchell, Head of Sales for Gartec Limited, sheds light on some of the main considerations when specifying the lift for your project and dispels some of the most commonly held misconceptions regarding the suitability of platform lifts
Vertical lifting platforms (platform lifts) are very often pigeon-holed into the disability category. While it is true to say that specifying a platform lift will help building owners to comply with the Equality Act, modern platform lift technology has extended their use for the non-disabled where a conventional passenger lift cannot be accommodated on the basis of available space or budget, or where a more sustainable alternative to a conventional lift is sought.
In selecting the appropriate lifting device care should be taken to ensure it is fit for purpose. A vertical platform lift can be specified for existing buildings or new builds or for developments with particular constraints such as listed buildings. The case for using a platform lift should then be argued in the Access Statement. Platform lifts are appropriate for installation internally or externally, for travel up to around 13 metres or serving two to three floors. For maximum flexibility look for a supplier who can offer platform lifts certified for the carriage of goods as well as passengers.
The total cost including installation for a platform lift works out to around 50 per cent cheaper than a conventional passenger lift. As the lift is mainly built off-site and supplied in its own self-supporting shaft enclosure, no structural shaft, no machine room, no deep pit and no lifting beam are needed for installation, thus only minimal on-site building work is required.
In listed buildings, tight stairwells and where headroom is limited, a platform lift is an ideal solution. For commercial applications a typical platform size is 1100 x 1480 mm. Many suppliers have a range of different platform sizes starting from 805 x 580mm, with a headroom requirement of only 2240mm for a full height door. Half height doors can also be specified for the upper landing if travel is no more than 3 metres, all subject to complying with the Building Regulations Part M. An experienced supplier will help you navigate any compliance issues.
As the name suggests a platform lift would normally have an open platform, but fully enclosed cabin lifts are now readily available based on exactly the same footprint as the open style options. Most open platforms address the main safety issue by having sensors around the edges which eliminate the possibility of anything getting trapped. Fully enclosed cabin lifts, however, offer all the advantages of a platform lift with the feel of a conventional lift. This enhanced sense of safety makes them an ideal choice for educational and retail environments.
With sustainability becoming increasingly important in the design and construction of new buildings, a platform lift supplied with its own shaft, i.e. constructed off-site in a controlled factory environment, is far more environmentally-friendly than traditional on-site lift construction for which a concrete shaft must be poured. In addition, off-site construction, allows better waste management, as waste is separated for recycling inline. Amongst the platform lifts on the market, better sustainability is provided by units based on the screw and nut drive system, thanks to their low power consumption and low maintenance needs. Specifying a system that has the facility to go in to a ‘stand-by’ mode is considerably more energy-efficient, using virtually no energy when idle.
As home owners and developers show consideration for the high numbers of the population now reaching retirement age, platform lifts are increasingly being specified for domestic dwellings. Inevitably, the prevalence of disability rises with age so those who would benefit from having a home lift is set to increase. 11.4 million people in the UK currently struggle with mobility and stamina/breathing/fatigue issues**. For the first time in history, largely due to the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), there are 11 million people aged 65 or over in the UK*. The proportion of people aged 65+ is projected to rise from 17.7 per cent currently, to 23.5 per cent by 2034, and by 2086, one in three people in the UK will be over 60*.
All in all, the platform lift provides a flexible access solution for many applications and is also quick and inexpensive to install. Seek professional, technical advice from a reputable supplier who holds EN81-41 accreditation and they will advise you on the suitability of products and meeting any necessary regulations. Sources:
*Factsheet: Later Life in the United Kingdom, published monthly by AgeUK, April 2015, **Disability in the United Kingdom 2014 Facts and figures, from the Papworth Trust, 2015.