Elevator travel remains one of the safest forms of transportation in the United States, where approximately 900,000 elevators are currently in service according to ConsumerWatch.com. On average, an individual elevator may serve 20,000 people per year. Out of a collective 18 billion passenger trips per year carrying an average of 5 people per trip, fewer than two hundred thousandths of one percent (0.00001136%) of those individuals experience elevator related injuries.
Public and worker safety in elevator use is the primary reason that governing entities assume jurisdiction over elevator specifications. Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) over elevator safety have typically been diligent in confirming that inspections take place in a timely manner, and thus that the code requirements are met. The ASME A17.1 code governing elevator safety prescribes the exact conditions that must be met for the elevator installation to be in compliance. It is to be expected that the safety of the equipment will be judged by its compliance with the code. While an individual inspector has been certified based on his or her integrity, competence, and knowledge of codes, no single inspector maintains the combined experience of the code writing committee. Therefore, inspectors are required to enforce the code as enforced by the governing entity, and there is no margin for personal interpretation.
Landmark Elevator Vice President, Bill Block, said, “Authorities Having Jurisdiction do have the authority to govern how the code will be enforced. They can choose to not enforce certain portions, or add more strict enforcement to other areas. The City of Los Angeles is a good example of an AHJ that does this, however, the vast majority of AHJs across the country simply enforce the code as it is written to avoid liability issues.”
Safety features on elevator equipment include a series of automatic checks performed by the electronic controller prior to each trip. In the event that some fault or deficiency is detected, such as the door failing to close fully, power to the motor is immediately terminated and the brake is applied.
“Any elevator installed under the 2000 code year or later is required to have redundant and fail-safe systems installed. This means that at least two completely separate safety devices would have to fail simultaneously for a safety issue to occur. If only one device fails to operate properly, the secondary device would allow the elevator to continue to operate safely and the elevator removes itself from service until it can be checked by a mechanic. Kind of like having a watchdog to watch your watchdog in case something happens to him,” said Block.
Elevator brakes are designed to be engaged unless power is supplied to release the brake, thus in the event of a power failure, the brake would be engaged and the elevator would be held securely. Traction elevators are held by multiple woven steel cables which are attached to counterweights at the opposite end. The combined strength of the cables must exceed the weight of the fully loaded car by ten times (safety factor of 10). In most instances, each individual cable will be able to hold more than the car weight, and, oftentimes an elevator may have as many as eight such cables.
Individuals riding elevators can take some common sense precautions to use elevators safely. For instance, while waiting for the elevator, push the call button once, and stand aside, allowing space for passengers to exit. If the car appears to be full, wait for the next car to arrive. Never attempt to stop elevator doors that are in the process of closing. Never insert arms or legs into the opening as doors close. As the vast majority of reported injuries involve tripping while entering or exiting the elevator, look to see that the elevator floor is level with the hall floor and watch your step. Stand back from closing doors, and keep all clothing or personal belongings well away from the opening. Especially supervise children and pets in elevator use. In the event of a fire or other emergency, do not attempt to use the elevator. Never attempt to manually pull open elevator doors from inside the cab or from the hallway landing. Elevator equipment should only be serviced or adjusted by licensed technicians authorized to do so. In the event that elevator equipment malfunctions, remain calm, wait for help, and do not attempt to exit the elevator.
With these reasonable safety precautions and the existing safety features and specifications, elevator transportation will remain practical, common, and safe.