An estimated 25.5 million people (about the population of Texas) or 8.5% of the U.S. population aged 5+ use wheelchairs for mobility.1 Approximately 1 million of those users use power mobility devices such as powered wheelchairs or scooters.

While powered mobility devices can contribute to an individual’s independence, they can present serious safety risks to their operators and the people around them. Risks can include falls from the device, collisions with pedestrians or objects, or even battery fires. The key elements to controlling these safety risks include operator evaluations to assure the device is right for them, operator training, and device inspections and maintenance.

Operator training for individuals

The first steps to maintaining the safety of the operator are effective training on safe equipment use as well as evaluation of the individual’s capabilities to assure the device is right for their needs.

When implementing a training practice for these devices, it’s important to follow the safe operating instructions provided by the manufacturer of the product. In addition to safety manuals, equipment manufacturers/providers may also offer training tools and resources specific to their devices.

When individuals have been trained on the safe use of the equipment, they should demonstrate their capabilities to assure the training was effective.

Their training and subsequent demonstration should include the following topics:

  • Moving safely in and out of the device, and when assistance is needed to do so.
  • Responding readily to verbal commands to stop.
  • Identifying obstacles in front of the device.
  • Demonstrating an understanding of unsafe terrain for the device (i.e., hills, loose/uneven surfaces stairs, etc.)
  • Taking appropriate evasive action to avoid obstacles.
  • Operating the equipment without hitting walls/obstacles.
  • Physical ability to maneuver the device effectively.
  • Turning around safely.
  • Looking back before backing up (if applicable)
  • Turning off and locking the device in position (when applicable) to prevent movement when exiting/entering the device.

Operators should not be placed in situations that are immediately dangerous or unsafe as a part of their demonstration (such as on unsafe terrain).

See the resources section of this document for publicly available tools to help evaluate the safety and understanding of individuals in your programs.

Devices can also be equipped with additional features from the manufacturer to improve the operating safety. This could include speed governors, which limit the maximum speed of the device. They can also include back up alarms, which indicate the device is moving backwards to notify other people in the surrounding area.

Device Safety and Maintenance

Regular inspection of mobility devices for maintenance concerns can help prevent safety issues that contribute to an injury.

Battery safety represents one of the primary concerns for equipment maintenance. Many powered mobility devices rely on lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries can potentially cause fires, and in rare cases, can spontaneously combust. The manufacturer’s charging and battery maintenance practices should be closely followed along with the following considerations:

  • Only manufacturer-approved charging devices should be used to help prevent improper charging, which can contribute to battery damage and battery fires.
  • Regular inspection of batteries should be conducted to identify potential signs of damage that could contribute to a fire, such as:
    • Signs of corrosion on the charging terminals
    • Bulging or misshapen battery casing
    • Signs of melting/heat damage.

Damaged batteries should be removed from the facility immediately and replaced with a manufacturer-approved replacement.

Other critical charging considerations include ensuring there is adequate ventilation during battery charging as the batteries may off-gas, overheat or catch fire. Extension cords should not be used for charging as improperly rated cords can contribute to an electrical fire. When charging, assure cord placement does not present a slip/trip/fall hazard.

In addition to battery-related concerns, maintenance issues such as loose seats, underinflated tires, and excessively worn devices can all contribute to operator injuries. Development of a documented and scheduled evaluation of these maintenance items can help to assure consistency in the evaluation of these safety items.

Through power mobility device operator training, inspection, and maintenance, you can assure the safety of individuals in your programs while helping them to maintain their independence.



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