I think I became aware of Coughtrie soon after buying a house in Glasgow in 1984 - as 2 of the SP10 units were fitted to the outside of the building.  I discovered happily that the firm was in Glasgow and went to buy another bigger SP10 (150W) to put over a garage after visiting the Hillington factory  (It cost £12.93 in August 1986!). I brought this one to my next house here in the South of England. I remember seeing these SP10 fittings everywhere and realised they must be the sort of good quality item specified by architects and other professionals. Pay more and get a quality item, that really lasts, and for which you can get spares years later. This suits me as someone who wants goods that do not break down within a few months, repairs things and keeps them going.  In the 1980s and 1990s this was NOT the zeitgeist at the retail level, but now I think it is becoming the proper thing to do, and rather "green"!

Paul M, South of England

Coughtrie International feature in the Custodial Review

Keeping The Lights Safe

Keeping The Lights Safe

Lighting systems in prisons and custody units have undergone radical changes in the last two decades. This was accelerated by the recent introduction of the Safer Custody programme. It's set to change again with the pressures on public spending. Technology also has introduced developments that include lower energy bulbs and intelligent switching systems. Custodial spoke to Stephen Mitchell about the background of custodial lighting and where its future development lies. 

Stephen is speaking on behalf of Coughtrie International, a long standing producer and developer of lighting systems based in Glasgow, Scotland. Established in 1941, Coughtrie international is now owned by the M2H Group of Comapnies

CR    the Custodial Review
SM    Stephen Mitchell     

CR    What factors have driven the changes in custodial lighting over recent years and what has it resulted in?
SM    About 15 years ago the Prison authorities started to pay more attention to the issue of self harm. The light fitting in the roof was an obvious attraction to those who were considering such a drastic course of action. This concern has driven most of the developments in the construction of the light housings towards making them ligature proof. The problem this creates is that in order to satisfy this requirement the housings have had to be very robust. This resulted in them becoming very heavy; as a result the installation costs were also high due to the manpower needed in the process. They were also expensive due to the materials cost and the higher costs of manufacturing in thicker grades of steel. This also made them more time consuming to maintain due to the number of fixings used to keep them together. The end result is a large heavy box that is very expensive to manufacture, maintain and install.

CR    How has Coughtrie gone about addressing these problems?
SM    It's not difficult to develop a light fitting that has no obvious attachment points, the real skill is designing out the ones that are not obvious and making it lightweight and low cost to use and install. To do this properly you first have to research how someone can create a ligature point. For instance we have been told that it's possible for someone to  create a hook, using simple materials, where they can attach a noose made from a shoelace!

When we looked at it from these perspectives it became obvious that a completely new way of looking at the problem was needed. Because once you understand what people will do to misuse the units you can approach the design from a different perspective. The product must not just be free of gaps; it must be also be unable to provide a gap. So it must not just be ligature free when installed, it must also not provide one when the inmate has damaged it. We took a new approach by designing our units to be strong because of the way they were designed and put together and not just because of what they were made of.  

CR    How do you design and develop something to fulfil these requirements without it being massive and therefore so expensive to buy, install and maintain?
SM     Traditionally prison light fittings were massive because they were manufactured from thick steel and all joints were massively engineered and closely bolted to prevent any gaps from being created or exploited. This resulted in them being very heavy. We realised that a gap would only be created if two metal surfaces met along a perpendicular.  So we changed the joints so that they met along a 45 degree trough that was lined with a silicon gasket. This also dramatically reduces the number of fixings required to keep the parts securely in place. The design has been patented. We developed shock absorbent fittings to reduce the ability for percussive damage to create a gap. We also discovered that by changing from the traditional triangular cross section to a radius the units, are naturally stronger, look better and are easier to maintain. We design using CAD and in 3D so by thinking laterally and using stress modelling we worked to reduce the metal used so that the resulting product was lighter and still provided a higher resistance to the creation of a ligature point. 

CR    What new products have you brought to the market based on the research and development?
SM    We have just had our Segura system approved for use in prisons. It was developed after a lengthy period of research with the prison authorities and builders. They told us that they wanted a ligature free, trunk based, lighting system that was aesthetically pleasing and was easier to install and cost less. With our Segura system they can fit the conduit support during first fix. The actual light fitting is installed during the second fix. This more closely follows the building process and also reduces the installation times and the chance of damage from other construction activities. This is also unique to our product. Interestingly this sector now expects the item to be more aesthetically pleasing. There was a time when it simply had to be functional, however that has changed and it now has to look good too. It's recognition that the surroundings someone is held in can have a direct effect on how they behave. If somewhere looks good then they are more likely to respect it. Other important considerations are how economic it is to run and maintain, in the past such considerations were minor, and however these have become more important and our Segura system addresses them all.

CR    What are the safer cell testing procedures it had to undergo?
SM    There are two processes, we have an in house one where we install the unit onto a wall and attempt to damage it with a variety of implements. Once we have done our worst we examine the unit to see if it has been damaged in such a way that a ligature point could be created. The more formal method is carried out by NOMS. They install it in a cell at a test centre in Yorkshire and subject it to a series of standard tests. You then hear if your unit has passed, or not.

CR    Does this new system have the energy efficient lighting technology, such as LED and low energy bulbs that are now becoming commonplace in other applications?
SM    Not yet although it can be adapted, the approved lighting systems for prisons have been slow to adopt these new technologies, it is going to happen as it is being tested at the moment. However all the present prison building and refurbishment projects are specifying the low energy fluorescent bulbs. We do install microwave detectors so that the light can be switched to detect if there is someone in the cell. There are building monitoring connections so that the lights usage and maintenance needs can be reported automatically.

CR    How do you see prison lighting changing and what are your development plans for custodial lighting the future?
SM    I believe it will follow the trends set by other lighting requirements. That is even lower costs, better performance and lower energy use.  To achieve this then the light source will move to a LED based system. These have all the attributes needed as well as lower costs of installation. Beyond that it will be OLED or Organic Light Emitting Diodes. The beauty of these methods of generating light is that you will get what looks like a piece of Perspex from which light radiates. This will make the design and fit of custody lighting far simpler and lower cost. This will be because the anti-ligature housings will be much simpler to manufacture and the need to get inside for maintenance will be almost nil as it won't have tubes to fail. These changes will come about in time, the Prison Authorities like to be certain of a technology before they install it into establishments as getting it wrong is hugely expensive. However in the areas where there is not the need for safer cell technology I believe they will adopt the new systems such as LED and OLED more quickly.

CR    Do you provide to the Police custody sector as well as the prison one?
SM    The prison sector is by far the larger of the two so we have developed all our products for that market. Coughtrie, being a Scottish company, concentrated on its local prison market and developed an excellent working relationship with Scottish prison building contractors. This enabled us to develop our lighting range to reflect the real requirements of the industry. So for us it was a demand driven development.

CR    Thank you for talking to the Review.

If you would like any further information on the Coughtrie lighting systems could you  please contact them directly on 0141-882 3262, www.coughtrie.com, or email info@coughtrie.com