Work-Related Elevator Accidents: Here’s What You Should Know
Construction, manufacturing, and retail industries experience a high number of work-related elevator accidents that cause serious injuries and fatalities. Elevator accidents account for as many as 10,000 injuries every year.
Elevator accidents injure and kill thousands of people each year in the United States. Many incidents occur when workers are installing, repairing, maintaining, or working near elevators. Workers employed in construction experience the highest number of injuries and deaths, followed by workers in manufacturing and retail jobs. Between 2011 and 2016, construction workers suffered 2,410 injuries from elevator-related accidents. Workers in the retail industry suffered 2,010 injuries, the second-highest number.
For construction workers, falls are a leading cause of death in the workplace. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 971 construction workers died on the job in 2017, and 388 of those deaths were caused by falls. Thousands more suffered serious injuries that required hospitalization and emergency medical treatment.
Work-related elevator accidents occur for various reasons, but the most common are:
The most common type of fall injury occurs when a person trips upon entering or exiting an elevator. In most cases, falls happen because the elevator car does not stop flush with the floor. These trip-and-fall accidents account for thousands of sprained ankles, bone fractures, bruised or dislocated knees, and wrist and hand injuries every year. It’s estimated that 75 % of work-related elevator injuries are caused by trip-and-fall accidents.
The most lethal falls occur when a worker falls into an elevator shaft when the elevator is not on that floor. Lethal falls into shafts happen more frequently on construction sites and workplaces that are under renovation.
- Working in elevator shafts or cars – Deaths often occur while workers are trying to retrieve objects that fall into the shaft; they are cleaning the interior of the shaft; elevators are stuck, and shafts or platforms collapse.
- Working near elevator shafts – Most of these deaths involve construction workers who fall into the elevator shaft while working without safety guard rails or safety equipment.
When an elevator malfunctions, passengers can suffer severe injuries or death. Malfunctions often occur from faulty brake systems, erratic movements, sudden changes of speed, and faulty cables. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), about 70% of deaths from elevator malfunctions involve elevator installers and repair workers. The other 30% involve construction workers, engineers, electricians, and maintenance workers. In at least 10% of deaths, fatalities occur to untrained, unqualified, or unlicensed workers.
OSHA accident reports show that more than 50% of work-related elevator deaths caused by elevator malfunctions are the result of electrical circuits that fail to de-energize or elevator parts that move unexpectedly during maintenance or repairs. Lockout procedures are part of OSHA’s standard for control of hazardous energy for the general industry. New construction and repair normally come under OSHA’s construction standard which does not have a lockout standard, but workplace safety practices mandate lockout procedures when repairing and renovating elevators and escalators.
Elevators and escalators pose serious injury risks from moving parts. Many injuries occur when workers get caught between elevator doors or in moving parts on escalators. If clothing gets caught, the elevator or escalator can quickly pull the item into moving machinery with incredible force.
Each year, Chicago workers compensation lawyers see many workers who suffer crushed limbs or amputated fingers and toes from the force of moving parts on elevators and escalators.
Illness and Disease
Elevators are breeding grounds for germs that can quickly spread illness and disease. Although these germs are not likely to cause serious injury or death, they can make workers very sick. Elevator handrails and buttons are usually covered in germs that cause viral and bacterial infections. Due to heavy use on a daily basis, workers employed in office environments, malls and shopping centers, restaurants, and high-rise buildings are especially at risk for picking up germs in workplace elevators.
Elevator Safety in the Workplace
Work-related elevator accidents cause up to 10,000 serious injuries to workers every year. Most of these accidents can be prevented with proper workplace safety procedures and equipment. To prevent elevator injuries and deaths, OSHA recommends certain safety procedures for all workplaces where elevators are used:
- Fall Protection – 49% of work-related deaths near elevator shafts are caused by lack of proper fall protection such as guardrails or scaffolding. OSHA requires proper fall protection if there is a fall hazard of 6 feet for construction or 4 feet for general industry.
- Inspections and Maintenance – Many workplace elevator accidents seen by Chicago workers compensation lawyers can be prevented with regular safety inspections and maintenance by a licensed elevator technician.
Illinois, as well as 24 other states, currently require licensing for elevator contractors, inspectors, and mechanics. Licensing is a common requirement in professions that impact workplace safety and health.