Accidents resulting from the use of bed side rails are preventable. Side rails are not inherently dangerous nor have there been reports of manufacturing defects. Instead, the deaths and injuries that have resulted from side rails used in hospitals and nursing homes have occurred because of poorly designed side rails or improper installation.
Bed Rail Suppliers
Some entrapments and strangulations occur because of problems with the design of the bed rails. Some bed rails leave a dangerous gap in various places such as near the headboard, between the rails or between the rail and the mattress. These gaps are large enough that an adult human can get stuck but they are not large enough that the person can get back out without help. When it is the person's head that is stuck and the person does not receive help in time, then strangulation might occur.
Some newer designs are being marketed as having a reduced gap between the rails and the mattress and headboard. However, these beds might still present a risk of strangulation particularly if they are sent to facilities without appropriate warnings and instructions or if they are being used as replacement parts with bed frames and mattresses with which they create a poor fit with resulting gaps.
Hospitals and Nursing Homes
In addition to the problems caused by the suppliers, problems also occur when a well designed and appropriately marketed bed gets to the hospital or nursing home. Sometimes the instructions that are sent with the bed are not read or are misunderstood by hospital or nursing home personnel and the bed is not safely put together.
Also, from time to time a piece of the bed system such as the mattress might need to be replaced. The replacement mattress might not have been made to fit the bed frame and side rails with which it is grouped. That creates dangerous gaps in the bed system and a risk of entrapment for patients.
Many nursing homes and hospitals are not aware of the FDA findings and suggestions regarding bed rails. They simply do not know that bed rails can be dangerous. Therefore, they give little thought to the set up, maintenance and oversight of the beds.
Whether it is the fault of the bed rail supplier or the facilities that use them, it is the patient and his or her family that suffers. Therefore, both the suppliers and the facilities should be aware of the FDA's warnings and recommendations about bed rail entrapments and should take steps to protect the patients and residents who use the beds.
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