The product that sells... but that we hope will never get used!

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Imagine producing and selling thousands of products, none of which will ever see the light of day. Many will be in cupboards and on shelves, whilst others will be in place, ready to solve a huge potential problem but will never be needed. A few will be used for training purposes, but most will stay in their packaging. That is the scenario at one business that has grown steadily over the past few years and which is now looking to capitalise on some recent legislation while, at the same time, build a stronger product range for the future.

Think vacuums and you think Hoover. Think evacuation and many people think Ski Sheets and Ski Pads. You may have never heard of them before, but they are two products that fulfil a real need. What’s more, they can keep people on the right side of the law too - the products are manufactured by Hospital Aids in the UK and they are being seen around the exhibition circuit and worldwide marketplace a good deal more, these days.

Hospital Aids as a company has been in existence for over 30 years and has been supplying Ski Sheets to the NHS since the early 80’s.The Ski Sheet was the main focus of the company in the early days and several of the other products that they manufacture under the Hospital Aids banner have evolved from the Ski Sheet. A good example of that would be the Ski Pad which is now one of our best selling items. The basic principal of all of their evacuation product range is to be able to get people out of places like hospitals and care homes quickly and carefully, with minimal physical strength, on the part of the carers.

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The best example of where the products have been successfully used in the past was at the Royal Marsden Hospital, in London when there was a fire in January 2008. Staff at the hospital evacuated more than 40 patients from the fourth floor, on their mattresses, using Ski Sheets.

The demand for their evacuation products is being driven by a combination of two pieces of legislation. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order of 2005 means that the Fire Service is no longer obliged to provide a “complete evacuation service” for your premises and now every business and establishment has to have their own evacuation procedure/s and appropriate equipment in place. Local fire and rescue services also have the right to inspect and if necessary close premises that are deemed to be in breach of this new legislation.

Couple that with the changes in the Disability Discrimination Act which states that everyone has to have the same right of evacuation and these are regulations which mean that equipment such as the Ski Sheet and Ski Pad are sensible options to be considered as part of hospitals and care homes’ compliance procedures.

The company has come a fair way since it was started by one lady working out of her garage. The Ski Sheet was just one of those innovative ideas that enabled an industry to develop from it.

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One of the key features of both of these products are the Immi buckles, which are imported from the USA and are the same quality and strength of buckle that you would find on most cars or aeroplanes. It is the most expensive component of the Ski Sheets and Ski Pads and gives them a much higher working load then most of the competing products.

The Ski Pad evolved from the Ski Sheet as a solution to the problem arising, where mattress evacuation is not feasible. It may be that corridors are not wide enough or stairways are too difficult to negotiate. There can be all sorts of architectural reasons why you cannot move people on a mattress and we believe that the Ski Pad has a lot of potential to be used in places other than hospitals and care homes, which has been their main focus up until quite recently.

For example, anyone who has a person working in their offices with a disability may well be a potential customer. Where you have someone with a disability working on the fourth floor of the building and there is a fire, then they will not be able to use the lifts, in order to escape and the Ski Pad is a good option to have on hand.

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Emergency evacuation and general rescue incidents are becoming more and more complex, with the number of obese/bariatric patients increasing rapidly in the UK. Their latest innovation, the Bariatric EvacMat, which is manufactured on site, has received plaudits from hospitals, ambulance trusts and fire services as there are very few products on the market which can cater for the transfer of very large patients/residents, in an emergency situation.

Alongside the products which they manufacture on site, they offer a menu of Evacuation Chairs and Moving & Handling aids enabling them to offer a fully comprehensive product range of evacuation options.

Of course, as we have seen with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), having legislation in place isn’t always necessarily the guarantee that people and companies are going to spend money to ensure that they comply. Although UK legislation was announced in 2005, Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, it has taken a few years for people to take it seriously. The difference is that now, the Fire Enforcement Officers are going into premises and serving enforcement orders, on the owners/managers of the building.

They will have been into certain premises, in previous months and explained what is required to comply but, if nothing has been done, they are now starting to take matters further and, in some cases, close the premises as a final sanction. This has led to a lot of calls from care homes and hotels, in particular — such premises have a real problem using existing evacuation chairs in terms of the maintenance and training required to be able to use them, safely. Many are now adopting horizontal devices such as Ski Sheets and Ski Pads as an alternative.

The Fire and Rescue Services have a duty to attend all reported fires as prior to the 2005 legislation, however, the onus is now on the building operators to provide adequately trained staff and equipment capable of safely managing evacuation procedures.

Originally published in Thiis Magazine, February 2010.