To many elderly, walking sticks are essential; some may prefer, in substitute of a walking stick, a cane umbrella. In a test on 30 walking sticks and 10 cane umbrellas, the Consumer Council has found over 55% of walking sticks and 90% of cane umbrellas samples did not comply all the safety items in the test. Of particular concern were 5 cane umbrella models which scored a poor overall performance rating of the minimum 1 point. In a cautionary note, the Council stressed that as the main function of a walking stick is to assist the user in maintaining balance, supporting some 15% of the body weight in general, if disjoin, deform or damage are found on stick body when heavy load is applied, it could cause the user to lose balance and fall.
Though cane umbrellas are not designed specifically as a walking aid, to many consumers, their design and function however is very similar to the walking sticks. Thus, not a few of the elderly would prefer a cane umbrella instead. But, as revealed in the test, the safety performance of an overwhelming majority of the cane umbrella samples is worrying. The Council is urging the manufacturers to improve the safety performance of products while appealing to consumers in need of walking aid, to choose walking sticks with higher safety performance instead.
Covered in the test were 30 non-wooden walking sticks and 10 cane umbrellas. The walking stick samples comprised half each of the foldable and non-foldable, weighing 217g to 525g and a price range of $80 to $1,080. Cane umbrella samples are generally heavier, from 405g to 618g, and a price range of $30 to $260.
The safety test, conducted in reference to the Taiwanese Standard (CNS 15192) and the International Standard (ISO 24415-1), included: construction, static load, bonding strength, frictional performance of tips, and markings and instructions. The results showed that apart from markings and instructions, only 6 non-foldable walking sticks, 7 foldable walking sticks, and 1 cane umbrella could fully comply all the safety test requirements, scoring them high overall rating of 4 points or above (maximum 5 points).
The strength of walking sticks to withstand heavy load is crucial; in the static load test, 9 walking stick and 8 cane umbrella samples were deformed to the extent exceeding the upper limit of the CNS requirements; 4 of the cane umbrellas samples were found permanently deformed, seriously affecting the stick body’s ability to withstand human body weight. Further, 11 samples were found insufficient bonding strength between the handle and stick body. When a heavy load is applied on the stick body, the handle may disjoin, deform or damage.
Another function of walking sticks is to minimise the risk of the user from slipping. Thus at the stick bottom is supplied with rubber tips that could function well for anti-slippery. 4 walking sticks and 7 cane umbrellas samples did not comply with the ISO standard requirements in frictional performance of the tips, exposing users to risks of slipping and injury. Further, the difference between the width at the outer and inner diameter of the tips of 4 cane umbrellas were found to be less than the CNS standard; and in 2 of them the treads molded on the tips were not deep enough for effective gripping power of the canes. According to the standard, a metal washer is required also to be incorporated into the tips which should be no less than 6mm in terms of thickness; but among the cane umbrella samples, 5 were without the metal washer and 2 others the plastic material under the metal washer were not thick enough.
As the tips of walking sticks are in frequent friction with the ground, they are easily worn out or damaged which could affect their ground gripping power, increase the risks of slipping of the users. In the friction endurance test the samples’ tips were found with varying degrees of frictional damage, from the least of 75 cubic mm to the highest of 702 cubic mm. If the endurance level of the tips is low, the user may need to change the tips frequently.
In accordance with the CNS standard, when the walking stick is adjusted to its full length, the minimum overlap of telescopic members should be 65mm to ensure stability, but 5 walking stick samples could not meet this requirement. Regarding the handles, the length of the T-shaped handle of 1 walking stick exceeded the upper limit of the CNS requirements; the inner diameter of 6 cane umbrellas’ curve-shaped handle was too small for people with big palms to hold firmly; the increment length adjustment of 1 walking stick was more than 25mm making it more difficult for the user to adjust to a suitable length.
The Council also urges manufacturers to improve product markings and instructions, which were found inadequate provision in all samples in the test. 14 of the walking sticks and all 10 cane umbrellas were without instructions manual. The products or their packaging were without any markings of important information, for instance, the model number, the serial number/year of manufacture and extendable length size, etc.
In the choice and use of walking sticks, consumers are urged to familiarise themselves with the following:
- Try it on before purchase to a walking stick with suitable length, weight and comfortable handle;
- Walking sticks should be fitted securely with anti-slippery rubber tips, the bigger the outer diameter of the tips the better their gripping power;
- Some walking sticks come with a hand string to wear so that when it falls to the ground the user does not have to bend down all the way to retrieve the stick;
- Despite foldable walking sticks is easier to carry, its options of length adjustment is relatively little and may not suit the height of all users.
- Inspect the length and adjustment mechanism are properly locked tight before each use;
- If the internal spring string of foldable walking stick is found loosen or damaged, stop use;
- Regularly inspect and change the rubber tips of the walking stick to reduce the risks of slipping;
- Long-handle umbrellas, cane umbrellas and hiking sticks are not suitable for use as tool to aid walking.
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