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People stranded in a lift

Hazard Knowledge

If a passenger lift (also referred to as an elevator) stops moving due to a mechanical defect or loss of power, the fire and rescue service may be called to rescue people stranded in the lift car or compartment. The urgency of the rescue will depend on the condition of the people inside the lift car.

The hazards when rescuing people stranded in a lift include:

  • Needing to work near the lift machinery
  • Electricity
  • Restricted access and space
  • Difficulties in using the appropriate rescue equipment in a restricted space
  • Deterioration in the condition of the people in the lift car
  • Impact of using equipment near the people in the lift car
  • Automatic or remote activation of the lift and associated machinery
  • Working at height

Lift machine rooms and lift shafts

Lift machine rooms may be situated in remote parts of a building, either at its top or base, and should normally be locked and secured. These areas may have restricted access or space, which will need to be considered when performing a rescue. Personnel should anticipate that unsecured lift machine rooms may contain drug paraphernalia, or human or animal excrement.

Personnel requiring access to lift machine rooms may have to ascend or descend stairs. They may also have to climb unprotected vertical ladders and pass through access panels. There is a risk of falling from height when ascending or descending unprotected vertical ladders, or when working near or inside an open lift shaft. Some lift machine rooms may require personnel to cross roofs without edge protection, thereby increasing the likelihood of falls from height.

If a lift machine room has to be accessed via a trapdoor or hatch, measures should be put in place to prevent their uncontrolled closure, in order to maintain safe access and egress. Lift machine rooms may be on split levels and have displaced lubricants on the floor. There is a risk of collision with fixed objects when moving around lift machine rooms.

The hazards associated with gaining access to a lift machine room may be increased by the conditions inside, such as noise, heat or reduced visibility.

Traction or cable driven lifts

These lifts may have a handwinding mechanism that is intentionally made difficult to access. Some lifts do not have this facility but will have an alternative method to move the lift in an emergency. These facilities may be fixed in various positions on one of the lift landings. They may also be found on the top or base of the lift car, or on the inside wall of the shaft. Entry into the lift shaft is not normally required to access manual release systems, other than for some construction site hoists.

The manual movement, often referred to as handwinding, of a lift will generally require some or all of its safety features or devices to be disengaged. During these operations, the risk of injury ranges from minor injuries if a task is performed incorrectly, to a fatal injury if personnel come into contact with moving machinery or electricity supplies.

Hydraulic lifts

Some types of hydraulic lifts can be raised by using the control panel. This means that the electricity supply will need to remain live, which means it is not possible to eliminate the risk of electric shock or electrocution during operations.

If the hydraulic pressure gauge is registering zero, but the lift is not located at its lowest level, the lift car, guide rails or other parts of the lift structure could be damaged or in a dangerous position; this may be what is preventing movement of the lift.

Hydraulic lifts are usually fitted with a hand pump to raise them and a valve marked with a red button to lower them. These facilities are not operated by a power supply, but personnel should be aware of the possibility of leakage of hydraulic fluids from rams, hoses and reservoirs. There is a risk of severe injury from epidermal injection when these systems are under pressure.

After the power supply has been isolated, or if fluid in the hydraulic system escapes, the lift machinery may move slowly downwards; such movement could result in injury to personnel.

Leaking hydraulic fluid can cause slippery surfaces, leading to slips, trips and falls. Contact with this fluid can cause skin irritation or disorders, with some fluids being carcinogenic.

Pneumatic vacuum lifts

Pneumatic vacuum lifts, sometimes referred to as space saver lifts, do not require a machine room. Controls will usually be found adjacent to one of the lift doors.

Lift machinery

For further information refer to Industry – On-site machinery.

Lift power systems

Lift power systems will present a risk of electrocution or electric shock until they are isolated. For further information, refer to Utilities and fuel – Electricity.

Most lifts will have two separate electrical sources in the machine room:

  • 230V electrical supply for the lighting and any power sockets fitted
  • 415V electrical supply for the machinery that drives the lift

Machine rooms may also contain:

Lift shear trap

If a lift car is stuck between floors, the gap between the landing floor and the lift car is described as a shear trap. If anyone is in this gap when the lift car moves, serious injuries are likely to occur.