Provider safety was on everyone’s mind at the American Ambulance Association’s 2016 annual conference held in Las Vegas, Nov. 7–9. Session topics spanned everything from improving health and fitness programs and reducing stress, to improving vehicle safety standards and driver requirements.
One of the easiest steps EMS agencies can take to improve the safety of their providers is to design a safer ambulance. Jeff Krueger, director of product development for USSC Group, caught up with JEMS at the show to discuss the importance of quality design in ambulance seating.
USSC Group designs seating for what Krueger calls “extreme duty use,” including military, fire apparatus, railroads and city buses. Their new Valor Seat was designed with the latest data from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in mind. In August, NHTSA’s Office of EMS presented shocking data at the National EMS Safety Summit in Denver, Colo. There, attendees learned that in NHTSA’s investigation of ambulance crashes, 80% of EMS providers who were not driving were not wearing safety restraints at the time of the crash.
“The feedback usually is that people don’t want to be buckled because patient care is the number one issue that they’re challenged with, including the ability to get to different access points in the vehicle where they need to access cabinets, laptops, equipment, etc.,” Krueger said. “So we’ve done a lot to incorporate this new four-point belt into our seat.”
The first thing providers will notice about the Valor Seat is that it’s very easy to use. “It’s a simple, one-click button actuation to set up multiple points, so from an ingress/egress standpoint, it’s easy and fast,” Krueger said.
Each of the Valor Seat’s four straps retracts individually, allowing the provider a full range of movement even while securely buckled in. When the seat reaches the federally specified maximum of 0.7 g-forces, the belts lock up. “Our seat, with this four-point system incorporated, allows you to move forward into needed reach zones while locking in position as designed. With our design and belt system, we would hope to increase the current estimate of 20% belt-use rate, thus helping to improve overall safety for our providers.,” Krueger said. “Obviously the best position is to be buckled and against the seat, but we do believe that you’re better off in other positions buckled than you are unbuckled. And if we can do anything to take that 20% use rate up to 40–50%, we’re only making safety that much better for our providers.”
Another key component in safely accommodating provider mobility is the ability for the seat itself to slide and lock in different positions. “We’ve designed and developed a heavy duty swivel, which turns and locks at every 90 degrees. We’ve also designed it so you can lock it at 30 degrees,” Krueger said. “So if you’re in a forward-facing position and want to turn toward the patient, you can lock it there and take care of things.” He added that the seat has been tested and certified to meet federal safety standards in every lock position.
But safety isn’t the only consideration USSC Group made when designing the Valor Seat. Provider comfort was also taken into account with new seamless, vacuum-formed construction. “It’s called our R-Back or Race Back. It has upper bolsters that kick out with an integrated headset so it gives you an extreme sense of comfort because it’s ergonomically designed,” Krueger said. “With this vac-form, we actually take the vinyl skin and lay it into a tool, and then we pour the liquid foam behind it to have the foam cure to the skin. This eliminates any concerns with regard to bolster wear, seam separation or things of that nature because the vinyl’s actually bonded right to the foam.”
Other innovations available through USSC Group include a child seat rated up to 65 lbs., a reclining seat that adds more comfort to those waits between calls without sacrificing safety and, coming in 2017, a seat that folds completely flat. “We’re working with all the customers, whether it’s end users or OEMS, and we’re trying to take all their feedback and the feedback of others in the industry who are experts and really develop the best product and the best product features that we can,” Krueger said. “We want to give the most opportunity for success for all of our EMTs out in the industry with the use of this seat.”