Facilities that deal with mental health issues need to implement all precautionary measures to prevent any hazards. In these environments, ensuring safety to those who want to inflict self-harm is especially challenging. Door hardware manufacturers have come up with specialized solutions for these settings that safeguard lives and create spaces with a safe behavioral healthcare design.
What is a Ligature Resistant Lock and Why Do We Need It?
Ligature-resistant: lacking points where a cord, rope, bed sheet, or other material can be looped or tied to fashion a point of attachment that may lead to loss of life or self-harm.
Mental health care facilities are constantly looking for equipment that is at the forefront of patient safety. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S in 2010. To put that in perspective, one person has died every 13 minutes. The CDC also conducted a study that showed for every 25 suicide attempts, one is successful.
The risk of self-harm or harm to others is high in environments with behavioral and mental health (BMH) patient populations. Prominent methods of self-inflicted injury in healthcare or incarceration facilities include hanging, jumping, cutting, and strangulation. Of the successful suicide attempts, 50% of death by hanging involve a ligature point shorter than the person’s height. Given this, ligature-resistant conditions are crucial in these settings where behavioral and mental health (BMH) patient populations are high. The risk of self-harm or harm to others in these environments has been highlighted as an area of focus for the U.S. in recent years.
How Do They Work?
The purpose of ligature-resistant locks is to ensure that nothing can be attached or tied to them. Traditional door locks, like knobs or handles, are shaped so that items can be easily tied to them; however, ligature-resistant locks have a sloped plate equipped with a closed handle design or a responsive lever.
The closed design fills in the space between the handle and the door, leaving it almost impossible for a cord, rope, or cloth to be looped through. With a similar function, a responsive handle will prevent someone to securely tie a rope onto the lock. Unlike traditional locks, ligature-resistant locks will not remain rigid and upright once something is pressing down on them.
Creating a Safe Environment
Research shows that most suicide attempts happen in secluded/ private areas, making it crucial to incorporate safety features in these areas.
In 2018, the New York State Office of Mental Health designed a guideline that categorized three risk levels for various patient care spaces
Three Level of Risk
- High-risk: High-risk spaces are areas where patients are difficult to manage or where the patient is alone and unsupervised. These areas include bedrooms, bathrooms, admissions areas, seclusion rooms, and comfort rooms.
- Medium-risk: Areas that are medium-risk are categorized as spaces behind self-locking doors where patient access is controlled. Areas include living rooms, dining rooms, group spaces, corridors.
- Low-risk: Low-risk areas are places where patients have unauthorized access such as medication rooms, offices, and utility rooms.
Categorizing areas within a building can help site planners and faculty create a safe environment with the necessary precautions.
Building Code Requirements
Prior to purchasing or installing these locks, be sure to consult with the lock manufacturer and building inspection agencies. Retrofitting ligature-resistant locks into existing mortise locks is typically not recommended by manufacturers.
The same style of hardware is essential when retrofitting a mortise lock with ligature-resistant parts. For example, if a mortise lock designed for knobs is installed with a ligature-resistant lever, the lever could progressively sag leaving the latch in a retracted position.
This is one of the many variables to consider when installing a ligature-resistant lock, so contact the manufacturer or local locksmith distributor to see what options are best for your requirements.
Check regulations with your state to ensure that the ligature-resistant hardware meets safety standards and regulations.
- California: The Office of Statewide Health Planning & Development (OSHPD) needs to examine any ligature-resistant hardware prior to installation.
- New York: The New York State Office of Mental Health Patient Safety Standards needs to be consulted.
Best Ligature-Resistant Locks
As one of the leading ligature-resistant manufacturers, TownSteel has been at the forefront of providing the highest standard of ligature locks to facilities nationwide. TownSteel offers ADA-compliant ligature-resistant Grade 1 mortise locks, Grade 1 mortise deadlocks, and Grade 1 and 2 cylindrical locks. Along with the knob and lever versions, mortise locks are offered in a Trim-Arch design with a handle that simply operates by pressing down.
In a feature with Locksmith Ledger, TownSteel’s founder, Dennis Ma, revealed that TownSteel is working on a mortise lock that allows for automatic motorized latch retraction that it hopes to have out by the third quarter of 2021. The lock will be aimed at multiple applications but will be able to incorporate ligature-resistant trim.
Designing a safe environment for those with behavioral and mental health issues is challenging, and there are a variety of preventative measures. Ligature-resistant hardware does its best to mitigate the risk of self-harm but is not a comprehensive solution. While it is almost impossible to prevent all methods of danger, we can take all the necessary steps it takes to minimize the potential.
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