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Elevator Deaths, Escalator Injuries Continue Unabated; Recession-Related Maintenance Avoidance In Part To Blame, Expert Says


CAMARILLO, Calif. [Aug. 18] - When a West Palm Beach, Fla., worker, Jason Moyer, was killed in May while repairing an elevator at a local apartment complex, authorities discovered that the elevator had failed an inspection a year earlier.

Meanwhile, in February, a 82-year-old Boston woman, Helen Jackson, was killed after she fell on an escalator at a Boston subway station and her clothing became entangled in the stairway’s teeth. Afterwards, Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority officials conceded that over the years there have been numerous accidents on its escalator system.

Jackson’s death caused Justine Silverman, a frequent transit passenger, to tell the Boston Globe: “I think they should shut it down until they make sure it’s safe for everyone.”

Neither of these incidents was surprising or unique. Each year, incidents involving elevators and escalators kill about 30 people and injure 17,000, according to Mike McCann, director of safety at the Center for Construction Research and Training in Silver Spring, Md.

McCann, who completed an extensive research project on the subject in 2006, said he believes nothing has changed since.

“The numbers are probably the same,” he said. “I haven’t seen any major [effort] toward doing something about it.”

McCann says he knows of situations where elevator doors open but there’s no elevator there and people plunge to their deaths. "Everyone thinks the elevator door won’t open if the elevator isn’t there. That’s only true if the maintenance is up to date and there’s nothing wrong with the control system.”

He also knows of incidents where escalators suddenly move from forward to reverse, without warning. “Episodes like that can get 30 or 40 people injured,” he says.

The problem is that cash-strapped companies aren’t keeping their maintenance programs up to date, says Robert Krieger, president of Certified Conveyance Training Corp. and one of the country’s leading experts on elevator and escalator maintenance training.
"Maintenance of your equipment that moves the pubic is one of those things you have to do, even in tough times,” Krieger says.

Krieger says the cost of maintaining elevators and escalators is cheap when you consider the legal ramifications of a single accident.

Such was the case in January, when the parents of Andrew Polakowski sued The Ohio State University two years after Andrew was crushed to death in an elevator accident in his dormitory. State inspectors later found that elevator’s brake failed. The university has since upgraded most of its elevators – too late for Andrew Polakowski and the lawsuit that followed.

Additionally, Krieger says that companies need to avoid handing out low-bid contracts to unqualified maintenance contractors. Rather, they should consider bringing the maintenance work in-house. If companies already have an in-house operation – even if it’s a reduced operation because of budget cuts - then they should make sure they are diligent in their maintenance schedules and that their workforce is properly trained.

“A topnotch training program can make a company’s existing maintenance workers better prepared,” Krieger says. “Better trained workers means fewer elevator and escalator accidents. That makes the price of the training programs extremely cost effective when you consider the alternative.”


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