Health and Safety Standards in the Lift Industry

Statistically speaking the humble lift is one of the safest modes of transport to travel in, with lifts completing millions of journeys daily worldwide, with very few accidents as a result of these trips. However, statistics do not alleviate people’s fear when it comes to heights, confined spaces and of course what they see in Hollywood blockbusters…

Since Elisha Otis invented the safety gear device in 1854, the industry has continued to make alterations to the standards that lifts should be installed to and technology has advanced to enable further safety systems to be implemented.

From 1st September 2017 the regulations that lifts should be installed to will change, so any new installations from this date will need to comply with EN81-20 and EN81-50, which replace the British “Lift Standards” which were harmonised with European Regulations in 1998 and the introduction of EN81-1 (traction) and EN81-2 (hydraulic).

The EN81 20/50 standards will offer the benchmark for new lift installations to adhere to for many years to come. The changes are another evolution in the safety performance of lifts, and as witnessed with previous regulation changes, they will not be enforceable retrospectively, but instead, the requirements of the standard will need to be considered during any planned refurbishment scheme.

However, as most readers of Flat Living are already living in an already constructed property, what you would like to know is “How safe is our lift?”. Whilst it is difficult to generalise with lift installations, as many have undergone changes since installation, the below summary should offer some typical guidance, based on when your property was constructed.

1900s - 1960s Construction

Lift design from turn of the 20th century through to the mid-1950s was relatively consistent, due to limited construction and minimal changes in the technology available to the industry.

Many of these units are still in service, as they were installed in low usage, residential properties and were of a high build quality (far greater than some seen today).

However, where left in near original condition, the lifts are no longer in accordance to modern safety standards and this is often raised in the insurance inspection reports.

Some key areas to look out for are detailed below.

  • Mesh lift shafts offer potential shearing hazards
  • Open lattice car and landing gates offer potential shearing hazards
  • No emergency intercom for entrapped passenger to contact lift contractor
  • Timber landing doors offer potential fire risk
  • Timber lift cars offer potential fire risk
  • Round guide rails enable limited CE marked safety systems to be installed
  • Door control and floor levelling accuracy leading to potential tripping hazards
  • Unsafe wiring and controls could result in electrical fires and shorted safety systems
  • Hazardous materials apparent, with carcinogenic or asbestos type materials used
  • Limited H&S / Code Compliance Works (leading to HSE involvement in the event of accident)

1960s - 1970s Construction

A boom in housing requirement fuelled massive construction projects throughout the UK, with “estates in the sky” being built. The major lift manufacturers of the time (Express, Otis, Keighley, etc.) were involved in designing and installing lifts to keep up with demand.

The products of this time were built to high specifications to withstand the high demands these estates would put onto the lift equipment and as a result, many are still in operation (albeit via refurbishment programmes over the decades).

Much of this equipment has been installed prior to the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act, and as such, fundamental safety issues (task lighting, machine guarding, stop switches, etc) had not been installed and the lifts could be hazardous to operatives and passengers alike if left in original condition.

  • Doors with no form of non-contact protection leads to impact injuries
  • Obsolete components leads to onsite repairs made to critical components
  • No form of signalisation to offer information, leaving lifts non-compliant for disabled access
  • No emergency intercom for entrapped passengers to contact lift contractor
  • Unsafe wiring and controls could result in electrical fires and shorted safety systems
  • Hazardous materials apparent, with carcinogenic or asbestos type materials used
  • Limited H&S / Code Compliance Works (leading to HSE involvement in the event of accident)
  • Limited provisions for firefighting in tall buildings
  • Poor control and floor levelling accuracy leading to potential tripping hazards

1980s - 1990s Construction

The lift equipment started using microprocessor technology during this period and this has in turn led to the “obsolescence” of some components, where spare parts and technical support are no longer readily available. The result is that reliability of many lifts has suffered and residents have experienced prolonged periods without lift service

  • Doors with single photo-cell leads to impact injuries
  • Obsolete components leads to onsite repairs made to critical components
  • No emergency intercom for entrapped passenger to contact lift contractor
  • No form of signalisation to offer information, leaving lifts non-compliant for disabled access
  • Unsafe wiring and controls could result in electrical fires and shorted safety systems
  • Hazardous materials apparent, with carcinogenic or asbestos type materials used
  • Limited H&S / Code Compliance Works (leading to HSE involvement in the event of accident)
  • Limited provisions for firefighting in tall buildings

Mid 1990s - 2000s Construction

From the mid-late 1990s the MRL (Motor Room Less) was introduced into the market place. Whilst the major lift contractors (Kone, Schindler and Otis) have produced their own takes on MRL equipment, other smaller companies have done the same with varying degrees of success.

Some products have been robustly designed and are utilising known and respected components in their lift installations.  However, there are many manufacturers from Europe and China where the lift equipment is poorly installed, there is no technical support offered to the UK market and in some instances, lifts have been removed after only 2 or 3 years’ service.

Health and safety standards are generally good from modern MRL equipment (as they should be CE marked, type tested equipment), though there are exceptions…

Typical MRL Issues

  • Lightweight construction from some manufacturers
  • Unique designs can make maintenance difficult to carry out
  • Limited technical support results in longer down time and incorrect diagnosis of some issues
  • Lesser lifespan of controls results in lifts lasting far less than the industry recognised 20 year target
  • No scope for future refurbishment means that some lifts have to be replaced at the end of their lifespan
  • Emergency release procedures can be complex, resulting in difficulties releasing entrapped passengers quickly

Action Points for Owners/Operators of Lifts

Following the introduction of the EN81 standards in 1998, the standards were tweaked in 2003 with the introduction of EN81-80, which proposed safety rules (similar to those outlined in the lift standards) to existing lifts, to be dealt with retrospectively.

A list of 74 rules and recommendations were introduced within that document to ensure the safety of passengers and operatives when dealing with older lift designs. Many of them overlap with the recommendation of the HASWA 1974 and failure to address them can see the full weight of the HSE coming down in the event of accident. The list to the right offers some insight into some of the matters highlighted for action when undertaking any refurbishment works:

13 - No or inadequate partition for several lifts in the same well 5.5.6.2

17 - No or inadequate lighting of the well 5.5.10

19 - No or unsafe means of access to machine and pulley room 5.6.1

23 - Inadequate lighting in machine or pulley room 5.6.5

32 - Unlocking of landing door without a special tool 5.7.8.1

43 - No or inadequate balustrade on car 5.8.6

49 - No or inadequate protection means on sheaves, pulleys or sprockets against introduction of objects 5.9.1

52 - No protection means against ascending car overspeed on traction drive lifts with counterweight 5.9.4

73 - No or inadequate load control on car 5.14.5

Further Advice / Recommendations

It is a legal obligation for passenger carrying lifts to be regularly maintained and inspected by a “competent” person every 6 months. The information detailed from the LOLER (Lifting Operations, Lifting Equipment Regulations) reports are generally a good guide as to the condition of a lift installation, the below was taken from a lift we are in the process of upgrading (and not a moment too soon according to the information provided).

Gareth Lomax is the Managing Director of Ardent Lift Consultancy.  

To find out more or contact Gareth, visit ardentlc.co.uk