Product testing

Working toward unified product testing

Philip Ross, a DIMHN Board member who leads the Network’s Testing & Innovation stream, reports on the ongoing joint work by the DIMHN and the Building Research Establishment (BRE) to develop and launch product testing standards for some of the key products used in mental healthcare settings.

We keep banging the drum about the importance of clear standards for products used in mental health environments. The current lack of guidance and consensus on how to test products means clients procure and test samples in silos – and the performance criteria can be different for each NHS or private provider. It is often a long and costly process with inconsistent results, and sometimes limits the number of products considered by clinical and design teams – sometimes to just one preferred, restricting adoption of the latest innovation that could address some of the major problems in mental health. The limited scope of current testing also risks issues not being spotted before products are actually deployed for use in ‘live’ ward environments, and unfortunately in mental health, when something goes wrong, the consequences could be as

extreme as a fatality or severe injury to a service- user or staff member.

MORE THAN JUST RAISING AWARENESS The Design in Mental Health Network is, of course, about more than just raising awareness, and has been actively involved in taking action to improve the quality of mental health bedrooms – from its development and championing of the Better Bedroom Initiative, to the publication of our own design guides (such as Design with People in Mind and The Sound Issue). Our next major goal – and this is an initiative on which we have been working with the leading built environment consultancy, the BRE, since late 2014, is to enable clients and architects to evaluate products with confidence – just like any other sector of the construction industry. We intend doing this by

developing, in conjunction with BRE, and subsequently launching, a suite of standards to enable particular categories of products commonly used in mental healthcare settings of different acuity to be tested in a way that not only provides specifiers such as NHS Trusts with assurance that they will ‘perform’ as required – in key areas such as robustness and anti-ligature – but also allows, and indeed facilitates, meaningful comparison.

Testing of an en suite door by Safehinge Primera in progress.

CURRENT FIRE DOOR TESTING A quick look at how the building sector is currently, for example, testing fire doors, highlights the need for such standards. Can you imagine the time and cost implications for those managing every single new-build or retrofit project asking to purchase a sample of the manufacturer’s doorset and putting this through their own fire test rig to see if it meets their requirements? Thankfully there are clear guidelines on testing fire doors, with UKAS (UK Accreditation Service)-accredited independent test bodies, and a robust certification process in place that allows specifiers to select the correct product from desk-based research. Each individual test might typically cost between £5,000 and £10,000, and take 2-3 months to complete; however, by contrast the formal test certification review reduces the product assessment by the design team to just 30-60 minutes. This also provides valuable efficiencies for the manufacturer, helping it deliver its products cost-effectively too, thanks to this ‘one-test-for-all’ approach. I would hope that the extra time afforded would then allow design and clinical teams to spend more time on improving the overall environment, and on assessing the impact on recovery of new products, rather than just their anti-ligature performance or robustness. For manufacturers, meanwhile, a ‘one-test-for-all’ approach should provide more time to focus on creating the latest innovations in the rapidly evolving mental health sector, with clear targets for product performance. Testing guidance documents are often used by companies to direct their development efforts, hopefully encouraging even more innovation. With defined criteria, clients or architects will be able to shortlist products without the expense of multiple samples and tests. It won’t be the suppliers who dictate what clients can have, but rather clients who will be able to specify the performance required. Architects and contractors can explore more of the market, helping to increase competition, resulting in better value procurement.


©Safehinge Primera

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