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Archives > December 2014 > Student Housing Furniture Safety: Problems and Solutions

Student Housing Furniture Safety: Problems and Solutions

Student safety is a top priority for housing professionals. This has led property management firms, designers, and school administrators to take a hard look at the realities of students sleeping six feet from the floor.

By: Kelly Uhland

Guard rails for fall prevention have long been a voluntary measure-one that many institutions and property owners opted out of. Limited budgets create tough decisions for builders even as RISK managers shake their heads. As lawsuits are on the rise, some administrators are taking notice.

Shockingly, estimates show over 2,000 instances each year where 18-22 year olds seek medical treatment for bunk-bed related injuries. When determining liability for the injury, recent litigations have cited both institutions and manufacturers, even when alcohol was involved.

More than likely, while current regulations provide voluntary measures for institutional beds, recent events are indicative a chance that suggests Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulations are headed our way.

REDUCING INJURIES
Fortunately, a few simple measures will go a long way to reducing the number of injuries. We can take a few tips from the recommendations of ASTM's bunk bed safety standards.

A composite group of consumers, manufacturers and resellers collectively reached the determination that any sleep surface, in this case the spring, over 30" from the floor, should have fall prevention in place.

Two important conclusions can be drawn from this. The first is keeping bottom bunks under 30". Many adjustable height beds still exceed this. As colleges and universities began requesting more serious methods for reducing this liability, some furniture manufacturers have pioneered solutions, effectively addressing the issue. The new trend focuses on the 30" factor. Anything above 30" would require a guard rail in residential settings.

Two drawer chests have replaced traditional three drawer chest below the surface to continue to utilize space below the bottom bunk.

The second important trend based on ASTM's research is incorporating guard rails into residence halls with bunked or lofted beds. When it comes to safety gear for the top bunk, new guard rails can easily be attached semi-permanently with specially designed fasteners, or bolted on with pre-bored openings. This includes full length safety rails or a partial length guard rail made for the entrance side of the bed. Many new designs for safety rails have been launched over the past year with many of them catering to a more mature style.

MODERNIZING LIVING SPACES WITH METAL
Pressure upon university administrators rises further as student demand falls short of available beds. Students are seeking a more modern living space, and institutions are now seeking ways to keep students safe and differentiate themselves. Competition comes not only from neighboring universities, but also from private developers.

Furniture replacement is often a part of the strategy as it helps adapt facilities to today's students' work habits.

As designers focus on style, metal furniture has made its way back into residence halls. The sleek, straight lines and minimalist approach that has been working for high-end condominiums has been adopted for student life. One very small issue has now quietly crept into student housing facilities. Tiny insects called cimex lectularius, commonly known as bed bugs, have found the nooks and hollows of metal furniture to be extremely enticing. Keeping bed bugs off campus can be next to impossible. They hide in the smallest of spaces and seek refuge anywhere that is snug and dark. The next best measure is to find them before they get too comfortable. Creating no-hide-zones has been the most effective, proactive approach to preventing infestations before they get outof- hand. Most campuses already transitioned to inverted seam mattresses for just this reason. Unfortunately, metal furniture is typically hollow inside, and these empty dark spaces are breeding grounds for bed bugs, making exterminations of these infestations both costly and disruptive.

Solutions can be found in a seemingly traditional type of product. Wood furniture lacks the hollow spaces that metal or mixed material casegoods do, and can be accented with eye catching laminates and drawer pulls, shapes, and features formed by an audible demand for something new. Along with new designs comes the evaluation of things that have been standard for decades.

File drawers now hold potato chips instead of actual files, and keyboard trays are a catch-all for the crumbs. The good news is that eliminating items such as these saves money and adds to the comfort of students through increased leg room and open compartment storage.

There are many questions to ask and answers to seek when selecting residence hall furniture. Versatility, storage, style and budget may drive decisions from one vendor to the next, but safety leads the way as a non-negotiable factor in design.

SAFETY BENEFITS OF THE TWO-POSITION CHAIR
The two-position chair was developed years ago as a way to address students leaning back on their desk chairs and inevitably falling backward. Head injuries became a thing of the past and many renditions have since been made, taking into account changing styles and sustainable fabrics. Because the two-position chair is engineered for both comfort and safety, the construction is typically both innovative and durable. The bottom rail allows the chair to lean, which increases student comfort and allows some movement at their desk.

These chairs can now be found in wood and metal through a variety of manufacturers. In fact though now commonly known as the "two-position" chair, many manufacturers are now designing seating with three positions. A particularly popular item recently is the seamless, unibody side chair. This wood chair has no side joints at all giving maintenance a much needed break on chair tightening. Additionally, ultra-thick plywood is used to cut the chair sides as one single piece.

ERGONOMIC TASK CHAIRS
A new take on this now traditional piece of furniture is growing in popularity. Ergonomic task chairs can now be found in many residence halls. These chairs are designed to offer comfort through established principles of best ergonomic design, which will decrease the bad posture that can lead to injury and increase productivity. Recognizing that students likely spend up to twenty hours a week in their residence hall desk chairs, administrators take special care to choose task chairs that are designed with long-term use in mind.

DURABILITY OF RESIDENCE HALL SEATING OPTIONS
The issue administrators are most often faced with today, however, is more a question of durability. Obviously, residence hall chairs are in use throughout the school year, and those task chairs need to be in excellent condition for the next students to occupy that dorm.

Luckily, a simple solution has been emerging. Fewer moving parts tend to lead to reduced maintenance. Reclining is still important to students, so tension tilts have increased in popularity. This is typically a steel bar that connects the chair back to the base, offering a comfortable flexibility without any additional hardware.

SUSTAINABILITY OF RESIDENCE HALL SEATING
Finally, many of today's manufacturers are focused on incorporating sustainability into their educational furniture, with many products becoming "GreenGuard" certified or meeting similar criteria. The focus on sustainability does not impact on comfort or durability, however, and the furniture must hold up for many years of use.

 

 

About The Author
Kelly Uhland

is a residence hall furniture professional and works as the National Sales Coordinator for Savoy Contract Furniture. She is also a corporate member of ASTM International and volunteers her time toward developing new safety standards for the consumer product industry.

 

 

 

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