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Elevator inspectors work to keep holiday shoppers safe

TUMWATER – The holiday season is here, and you know what that means: you’ll be logging time in big department stores along with lots of other shoppers.

So, as the elevator door squeezes shuts on you and 15 other strangers and their packages, will you be wondering what would happen if the power went out – or if the elevator jerked to a mid-floor stop?

“For many people, it’s their worst nightmare,” says Washington’s Chief Elevator Inspector, Jack Day, at the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). “The good news is that elevators rarely fall down shafts and hurt people. The bad news is that L&I inspectors continue to find elevators with inoperable lights, alarms, and emergency phones that building owners have not maintained. If the power goes out and the batteries are dead, and/or the phones are broken or incorrectly routed, you could find yourself stuck in the dark for a long time.”

L&I’s 22 elevator inspectors try to inspect every elevator in the state annually. (Seattle and Spokane have their own inspection programs.) Between June 2009 and June 2010, they conducted 12,000 routine elevator inspections and issued about 23,000 correction notices to building owners – nearly two corrections for every one they inspected.In many cases, L&I requires the building owner to shut down the elevator until the problem is fixed.

Here are some of the typical safety hazards L&I elevator inspectors uncover:

  • Elevator doors are improperly set, so it closes with too much force. This can cause injury if someone tries to reopen the door at the last minute or lingers in the doorway for too long, and the door’s “nudging” system has too much force.
  • Emergency phone in elevator isn’t set to a back-up service with 24-hour emergency help when building maintenance staff are not on-site to help stranded passengers.
  • Dead batteries on alarm, emergency lights, and phones; all three need working batteries to operate in a power outage.
  • Elevators are not level to the floor when they stop.
  • No fire extinguisher.
  • Suspension ropes need to be replaced.
  • Owner (usually the owner’s elevator maintenance service) didn’t perform an annual safety test to check all of the above.

Factoid: Did you know that your arm, leg, or body will stop an elevator door from closing, but only as long as you get in there while there’s still plenty of room. If you wait until the last inch and slide a few fingers in the gap to re-open the door, look out. The re-opening device doesn’t work in that final inch.

L&I inspectors inspect Washington’s 500 escalators too! Watch for these hazards.

Most “conveyance” accidents don’t occur on elevators, but on escalators, and many are due to rider-error. People may have too many packages, a loaded stroller or luggage pieces and can’t use the hand rail. These accidents tend to be falls from a loss of balance or injuries caused by being struck by runaway luggage.

Watch for this escalator hazard: Narrow gaps where the step meets the side of the stationary wall.

Keep hands and feet away from the gaps on each side of the escalator step. Some kids like to let their shoe to rub the sidewall as they ride on the moving step. Watch out! The friction can melt the soft parts of their shoes, and the sticky stuff left along the stationary wall can pull the shoe into the gap. L&I inspectors check these gaps and many other potential dangers at every annual inspection.

What to do if you discover a hazard on an elevator or escalator: Call the building manager pronto!

If you don’t feel they are responsive, contact L&I’s Elevator Program; its phone number is posted on the yellow “Conveyance Operating Certificate” located in or near every elevator and escalator.

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For more information: Dana Botka, L&I Communications Services, 360-902-5408

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