A new report on a New York City elevator accident highlights the importance of safety on elevators, escalators and other equipment that transports the public.
While many elevators and escalators are used daily by large numbers of people, they pose a risk for injury when they are not properly maintained. The responsibility falls on manufacturers to produce safe products and building owners, management companies and city and state inspection officials to ensure machinery is kept up to code.
Elevator and escalator injuries and deaths are more common than the public may know. Each year, elevator accidents result in about 10,200 injuries and 27 deaths in the U.S. Escalator accidents result in about 17,000 injuries and 30 deaths.
One tragic case recently occurred in Massachusetts. In March 2011, a 4-year-old boy was killed after an escalator accident in the Sears at the Auburn Mall, near Worcester. The child was standing on the store’s second floor when he grabbed the moving down rail of the escalator and was pulled through a gap between the Plexiglas divider and the escalator. He fell 18 feet onto a display case.
Investigators later learned that the gap between the Plexiglas and the elevator was 1-1/4 inch greater than code. After an investigation, two state escalator inspectors were fired, six were suspended and 26 others were reprimanded.
In December 2011, two women lost their lives in separate elevator accidents. On December 9 in California, a 48-year-old woman was killed on an elevator accident at Cal State Long Beach. She was killed when the elevator got stuck between the second and third floors and someone tried to help her escape. A 2000-pound car crashed down on her.
Just five days later in New York City, a 41-year-old advertising executive was killed in an elevator accident in a Midtown Manhattan office tower. The woman was killed after she stepped into an elevator which suddenly lurched upward with the doors still open. She was pinned to an elevator shaft between the first and second floor and pronounced dead at the scene. Two other people who were trapped in the elevator were rescued and treated for trauma.
The city released results of the investigation into the woman’s death this week, finding that a maintenance crew had been repairing the elevator and utilized a special jump wire to bypass the elevator’s safety system nine minutes before the woman’s death. They then accidentally left it in place.
The investigation also found two other violations. First, the elevator repair crew never posted a warning that work was being performed. Second, the crew never called the city’s Buildings Department before putting the elevator back in service.
The city has suspended the license of the company from performing maintenance, Transel, which services 2,500 elevators in New York City. The company has fired five mechanics.
- Transel Elevator Fires 5 After Report on Elevator Death, The Associated Press.
- Escalator fall leads to firings, suspensions, Worcester Telegram.
A recent public records request made by the Boston Globe shows the state has failed to regularly inspect approximately 75 percent of the escalators in Massachusetts malls.
From 2008 to 2010, only 44 of the state’s 188 mall escalators received annual inspections as required by law. Inspectors missed one or two inspections during those three years on 144 escalators.
When mall escalators were inspected, they needed repairs in more than half the cases. Mall escalators were shut down 22 times.
The newspaper made the public records request following the wrongful death of 4-year-old Mark DiBona last month in an escalator accident in a Sears department store at the Auburn Mall near Worcester. The child fell through a 6-inch-wide gap between the handrail and the glass barrier.
The state Department of Public Safety suspended the two inspectors who approved the defective escalator for use.
The state’s failure to inspect its escalators dates back at least 15 years. In 1995, the Globe reported that nearly 40 percent of the state’s escalators and elevators had expired inspections.
The state currently has 34,000 elevators and 900 escalators for 51 inspectors to examine. Two dozen of those positions were created in 2010, the same year an audit found that nearly a third of the state’s elevators and escalators had expired inspections. Fifty one inspectors is the most the state has had in years, though some specialists say they still carry a heavy workload.
Beyond staffing, some specialists in the field say that inspectors spend more time on elevators and are less experienced with escalators, which may contribute to escalator accidents in Massachusetts.
Boston personal injury lawyer David White on the findings: “It is encouraging that the state is now catching up on the backlog of inspections. What is discouraging, however, is how many violations they are finding. This is a strong indication that property owners and their own service companies may be putting the public at severe risk.”