Do not overlook this key to safety
Rockford Mass Transit advises paratransit technicians to inspect the restraint system
By Dan Engelkes
Maintenance professionals may take the time to check the mechanical systems and wheel chairlifts on paratransit vehicles, while overlooking the necessity to inspect and maintain the restraint system. Rockford Mass Transit and Rockford Paratransit, Rockford, IL, makes this a critical aspect of its daily operator pre-trip inspections.
Regardless of manufacturer and brand, only two components comprise the restraint system and both require periodic inspections.
The first is the floor track constructed of strong, lightweight aluminum bolted through a wood floor panel into the steel frame. Over time the floor tracks can weaken due to corrosion and warping. In a panic stop situation with a track in this condition, the tie down strap could come out of the track and possibly cause the wheelchair passenger to tip.
There are a few theories as to what causes the corrosion. The steel bolt that attaches the track to the floor may create electrolysis with the aluminum in the track. Or the aluminum reacts with the treating of the plywood sub floor. Another is that track corrosion is simply due to normal operation such as water, dirt, road salt and chemical cleaners.
Regardless of what actually causes this problem, it requires attention. One of the first clues will most likely come from a driver complaining that the tie down strap doesn’t fit at every location, indicating the track may be warped. If the technician does not find anything obvious such as build up dirt, he should remove the track and look further.
If he detects any corrosion, it is time to replace the track and perhaps the tracks at the other WC positions as well. Figure the expense and downtime as a small price to pay for the safety of the passengers.
The tie down strap is the second piece in the restraint system. The many manufacturers that produce these tie down straps design restraints to work with their specific floor track systems and that are not interchangeable with other manufacturers. In fact, tie down straps may not work on another restraint system by the same manufacturer even though they may appear to fit.
The best maintenance advice to prolong the life of the tie down straps is to simply keep them clean. Most manufacturers provide storage bags for belts when they are not in use. Make protective storage of the tie down straps an operation requirement and do not leave unused straps lying on the floor.
Drivers must inspect the belts on a daily basis and during every preventive maintenance inspection, checking for broken or worn hardware, frays, and contamination. Replacing a damaged belt always eliminates any doubt about its condition. It is also important that drivers maintain careful documentation on belts they have inspected and had replaced.
Most belts clean up easily with mild soap and water, but the recommended cleaning and maintenance methods found in the owner’s manual or belt manufacturer web site provides the best results. If possible keep an extra set of belts on hand for use while the other is drying.
Through these diligent efforts, complaints from Rockford Mass Transit passengers and reportable accidents due to strap failure are virtually non-existent. BR
Dan Engelkes serves as maintenance manager, Rockford Mass Transit District, Rockford, IL.