Vertical Transport Consultants

Are Lifts safe?

In the vertical transportation industry, one of the most frequently asked questions on search engines is ‘are lifts safe?’. This question along with many others was recently addressed in a Channel 5 TV production, ‘Trapped in a Lift: When Elevators Kill’. We asked Mark Fairweather, who provided expert industry commentary in this programme, just how safe are lifts?

 Channel 5 - Trapped in a Lift: When Elevators Kill

 “Very safe”. The very first ‘safe’ passenger carrying lift was demonstrated by Elisha Otis in 1853 at the Great Exhibition in New York. He famously stood on a platform and had someone cut the only rope holding up the platform with a cry of “all safe gentleman, all safe”. The platform moved a few inches before the ‘safety gear’ engaged and the platform stopped.

 Elisha Otis at the Great Exhibition, New York 1853

This was the birth of the elevator and since that day in 1853, safety has always been at the forefront of technological innovations and advancements.

In basic terms, a lift is a cabin/car fixed to one end of very strong ropes, with a counterweight on the other end. The ropes travel over a pulley wheel, which are connected to a motor which in turn drives the lift up or down. The lift is kept in place by guide rails, which act as tracks to keep the cabin/car in position during its journey. Obviously, passengers must get in and out of the lift cabin/car, so there are landing doors linked to car doors which are controlled by a door operator. The doors simultaneously open and close at landings to enable passengers to go in and out of the lift cabin/car. There are controls to call the lift on each landing and inside the cabin/car to select floors. These tell the lift where to travel and when to stop.

Typical Model of a Traction Lift

So, just how safe are lifts? Well, if you take the United States statistics as being typical; they report 30 fatal accidents a year related to lifts (elevators), of which about half are related to Engineers working on the equipment. This compares to over 2000 fatal accidents on stairs in the same period. You could, of course, argue that more people use stairs than lifts.

Further evidence can be found by reviewing data which suggests there are an average of 0.015 (one in every 66 lifts) accidents per lift every year. If we assume a typical lift carries 10 people per hour for 8 hours a day and operates 5 days a week, this equates to 20,000 passenger trips per year. If you do the maths, this means that for every 1.32 million passengers there will be one injury.

1:1,320,000 Passengers Injured

Lifts are complicated bits of kit which have many hazards associated with them; working at height, electricity, mechanical engineering and movement. Probably the biggest hazard of all is people!  A lift should be the correct specification for the application, be installed and tested by a competent supplier, regularly maintained and tested in line with statutory requirements and above all respected.

The D2E ‘Layman’s Guide to Lift Ownership’ states; ‘there are at least 15 pieces of legislation, regulation, code and guidance directly aimed at ensuring owners, operators and maintainers of lifts behave responsibly and safely, and this doesn’t include the more than 30 separate EN81 lift codes.’

 D2E Layman’s Guide to Lift Ownership

There are estimated to be over 15 million lifts in operation around the world, used by billions of people every single day. Think about life without lifts, it would be a very different World! Lifts are safe, use them correctly, respect them and enjoy the experience.


By Mark Fairweather, Managing Director, D2E International VT Consultants Limited