• Bariatric Seating for Healthcare Lacks Testing Standards

    Posted on September 18, 2012 by Marleen Milligan in Healthcare Design Education

    Bari-theatrics, “To be or not to be, that is the question”…Will testing standards for contract bariatric seating ever be developed?

    Asking for bariatric testing information from manufacturers producing contract seating became a “Comedy of Errors.” My experience left me confused and made me think of one of Shakespeare’s earliest farcical comedies. The topic of this blog came into play recently when one of our clients asked us to specify 25% of lobby/public seating as bariatric with a maximum weight limit of 700 lbs.

    The question is, what maximum weight capacities for bariatric seating should specifiers select for healthcare facilities? Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S. after smoking and more than one-third of American adults are obese. An obese person is defined as a person with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or over. Many are familiar with the TV program “The Biggest Loser” and the heaviest contestant on the show weighed 526 lbs. One could see the struggles this person had trying to walk a few steps. Recently, CNN reported a Massachusetts doctor is now turning away patients who weigh over 200 lbs. claiming that two of their staff members were injured caring for patients of this size. The American Medical Association’s Council on Ethics and Judicial Affairs policy reads, “Both patients and physicians should be able to exercise freedom in whom to enter into a patient-physician relationship with…physicians do not give up their freedom of association by merely becoming professionals.” The Massachusetts doctor does recommend alternatives for their turned away patients such as “a local obesity center which is better staffed and has more resources than they do.” As obesity is on the rise, healthcare facilities are now scrambling to provide suitable equipment, trained staff, and bariatric seating, but is the bariatric seating we are specifying safe for obese people?

    To educate myself I wanted to know how bariatric seating was tested in order to enable manufacturers to add claims “Certified to hold up to 700 lbs.” in their brochures and specifications. I sent an email to each bariatric seating manufacturer that we typically specify requesting test results. I added a suggestion for new bariatric seating weight categories, such as, referring to a seating unit’s weight capacity:

    • B1 = 350 – 499 lbs.
    • B2 = 500 – 749 lbs.
    • B3 = 750 – 999 lbs.
    • B4 = 1000 lbs. and over

    Healthcare Design - Bariatric Seat Testing Initially, I thought the responses that I would receive were going to be standard test results, but to my surprise, I received absolutely no consistency for tests they performed. Not one manufacturer matched another in how they tested their furniture in order to call it, “bariatric.” Of course the next question I had was, “Doesn’t BIMFA (The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association) have standards for bariatric furniture testing?” In my review of BIMFA’s website I saw that there was no “bariatric” seating standard listed. That is why some of the manufacturers’ test results said, “BIFMA compliant” or “Passes above BIFMA.” That doesn’t make sense as bariatric seating is not and will never be the same as standard seating.


    Standards for contract furniture testing currently from BIFMA’s website:

    • ANSI/BIFMA X5.1-2011 General Purpose Office Chairs
    • ANSI/BIFMA X5.3-2007 Vertical Files
    • ANSI/BIFMA X5.4-2012 Lounge Seating
    • ANSI/BIFMA X5.5-2008 Desk Products
    • ANSI/BIFMA X5.6-2010 Panel Systems
    • ANSI/BIFMA X5.9-2012 Storage Units

    For bariatric seating, manufacturers are most likely using the ANSI/BIFMA X5.4-2012 Lounge Seating standard as a base to perform their own tests. The list below represents test types performed under this standard:

    • Back strength/durability
    • Arm strength/durability
    • Seating impact
    • Seat drop
    • Structural durability
    • Unit base
    • Leg strength
    • Unit drop
    • Caster/base durability
    • Swivel cycling
    • Tilt mechanism
    • Unit stability

    Results I received of tests performed from a few manufacturers of contract bariatric seating:

    • Static
    • BIFMA cyclical drop test
    • Drop
    • Live load
    • Dynamic

    The above test results from manufacturers are atypical, not related, and completely confusing compared to BIMFA’s standard for the lounge seating testing. It is also confusing on what exactly the tests listed above involve or how they are defined.

    To clarify, here are some definitions of manufacturer test responses:

    • Drop Test—weight dropped from 6” above seat (simulates the impact weight of when person first sits down)
    • Dynamic Test (live load)—combines both the weight and the motion of sitting to represent a more realistic situation
    • Static Test (dead load)—single large weight on chair for a set period of time with no additional force or movement applied. Not very realistic.

    In conclusion, it is “theatrics” in the world of contract bariatric seating testing. It seems farcical and leaves us, as commercial designers, questioning if there will be a “To be or not to be,” bariatric seating standard implemented by BIFMA sometime in the future. I am hoping for “to be” as you can see above, we need this. We have gone way too long to not have these standards established in the time that manufacturers started producing this type of seating.

    BIFMA….are you listening?

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