What are common problems with lay-flat / hi-lo medical chairs?

What are common problems with lay-flat / hi-lo medical chairs?

If you’re considering purchasing lay-flat / hi-lo chairs for your unit, you may be wondering what potential problems there are with these types of seating.

The types of problems that can occur depend on a few factors:

  • Are the chairs electric or manual?
  • Will they be moved around the hospital, or will they stay on my unit?
  • Are all users properly trained?
  • Is there a maintenance contract in place?



The most common problem with an electric care chair is damage to the handset, either through stretching, crushing or cutting. When one of the internal cables is damaged, the handset will either fail to operate the chair at all, or some of the functions may not work.

Preventing a handset issue

  • Always hang up the handset in the correct place, for instance on the rear handlebar
  • Don’t leave the handset on the floor where hoists and other mobile equipment can run over the trailing cable
  • Avoid stretching the cable – we sometimes see a cable wrapped 1-2 times around a chair

Control box and battery

Although rarer, a control-box can be damaged internally if the device is subject to variations in the power supply. The most common reason for this is using an incompatible power lead to charge the chair. It is a misconception that you can use a “kettle lead” to power and charge the chair. We often see a kettle type lead which has no locking mechanism, hanging half out of the socket. This can do two things:

  • As the lead bounces in and out of contact, it can damage the circuits internally
  • It will not provide the chair battery with charge

Preventing control box and battery issue

  • Always use the correct Linak lead and locking mechanism
  • Ensure that the lead is firmly pushed in and locked
  • Throw away your kettle leads!

Column (and other actuator) overloads

The actuators (sometimes called motors) that perform the moving functions on layflat chairs can be overloaded if either:

  • The safe working load of the chair is exceeded
  • The chair comes into contact with an immovable object like a bed or gantry

As a safety mechanism, a lot of actuators will have an overload protection device which collapses internally should the equipment meet resistance; this protects the device (and its occupant) from a tipping hazard. Usually, overloads are not repairable and require actuator replacement.

Preventing an overload issue

  • Make sure that the chair is away from obstructions and is not attached or entangled with other equipment
  • Do not exceed the safe working load (all chairs should have the safe working load displayed on them) – contact the manufacturer if you are not sure of this
  • Where possible, avoid overcrowding storage areas
  • Do not allow untrained or unauthorised persons to use the equipment
  • Use a service and repair contractor that is correctly equipped to diagnose overloads with a service data tool

Framework Issues

The framework of medical chairs is strong and usually constructed of tubular steel. However, everything has a limit! One of the most common areas to get damaged is the elevating legrest, usually when someone sits on it. This part of the chair is designed to lift the weight of legs, not the entire weight of the human body.

Chairs, if used correctly, will usually not present framework issues, especially if made by a reputable manufacturer who is correctly classifying their device.

Preventing framework issues

  • Follow the user instructions and do not allow inappropriate weight loading to parts of the chair that are not designed to be sat on
  • Observe and obey warning labels, e.g. “Do not sit on this legrest”
  • Only use manufacturers that correctly classify their chairs as Medical Devices and who have registered with MHRA*

*Some mainstream manufacturers don’t correctly classify their chairs as medical devices and are not registered with the MHRA, citing irrelevant “furniture” directives. To find out more about this issue and why it matters, you might find these blog posts useful:

Why you need to be bothered about MedTech compliance

What is an EC Declaration of Conformity?

MHRA Registration



Upholstery issues usually fall into three categories:

  • Wear and tear
  • Damage caused by sharp /rough objects (physical damage) or
  • The use of harsh cleaning chemicals and processes.

Wear and tear

Whilst wear and tear is unavoidable, you can minimise this with proper care of the upholstered parts of the chair. If the chair(s) are likely to be moved off the ward or around the hospital frequently, there are upholstery protectors that can be specified to protect the arms from doorway damage, for example. You can also minimise the cost and downtime of upholstery wear and tear by using a chair with modular upholstery – we cover this in our blog post on the costs of medical chairs – look at this article, especially the section on “other lifetime costs”.

Physical damage

Physical damage can be caused by sharp objects (such as blades, fixtures, brackets, screws etc) puncturing the chair covers or by abrasion from rough surfaces or edges (such as brick walls, doorways, wall corners etc).

Chemical damage

Certain cleaning products and methods can cause the surface of medical vinyl and polyurethane covers to dry out and “crack”, breaking down the wipeclean / fluid resistant properties.

How do you prevent upholstery issues?

  • Specify chairs with upholstery protectors if they are going to be moved around the site frequently
  • Look for seating with modular upholstery so that covers can be quickly exchanged on site when needed
  • Store chairs carefully away from other equipment to minimise clashes / puncturing / abrasion
  • Do not allow sharp objects to be used near the chair
  • Make sure you have read the approved / not approved cleaning chemicals list for the chairs you use – request this off the manufacturer if you haven’t got a copy
  • Take care when moving the chair around – one way to make this easier is to use a chair with directional locking front wheels to keep the chair in a straight line and prevent wandering towards the surrounding walls


We hope this short guide is helpful in providing you with an insight into common issues that affect medical / layflat chairs.

If you have any questions, please call our office on 01926 889677 and we’ll be glad to help.

Remember, we offer servicing and repair, the packages are available here