If you work in construction at all, you’re probably familiar with the the term “workplace falls”. Two past headlines concerning workplace falls involving elevator shafts include: “Worker Critical After Fall Down Elevator Shaft” and “Man Recuperates After Surviving Fall Down Elevator Shaft.” In the first example, the scaffolding the man was working on collapsed. He fell down the shaft and suffered two broken legs and a broken pelvis. He is expected to make a full recovery.
The second man didn’t fare as well. He was finishing concrete near an elevator opening when he lost his balance and fell 45 feet, breaking both his vertebrae and ribs. Fortunately, he still has feeling in his legs and plans to walk again in the future. A third recent accident is under investigation, but it seems that it was an accidental fall down a hoistway as well, this time resulting in death.
The first two are the luckier elevator hoistway construction accidents, as the workers did not lose their lives. But, like all workplace accidents, these injuries could have been avoided. Part of the problem involves traditional stick-built elevator construction. The old way of how the elevator shaft is built is inherently dangerous. The shaft is constructed in the building and as a result, hatch doors are open for months while other construction trades work around the shaft. They are to be closed off with appropriate warnings but, because installation takes so long, the openings for the elevator doors are often ignored and result in a hazard for anyone who visits or works on the job site.
This has a negative impact on both the employee and even the employer. An unfinished and hazardous elevator can mean accidents that drive up costs and lost man hours as well as the human toll of injury or death.
One way to avoid many of these accidents is to have a complete modular elevator brought to the site, craned into place and then installed in a week or less. Modular elevators have all the doors on the elevator hoistway closed and locked until the elevator is installed and functioning. This prevents falls down the shaft. Also, there is no long wait time for the elevator to be installed. It arrives at the site and is fully functional in less than a week. It can even be placed before other construction begins on the building. Modular, in many circumstances, is the solution to the safety problems that are experienced when dealing with an open elevator hoistway.
Another example of the danger of old-fashioned elevator installation are the rails. The modular elevator comes as a completed unit with all the components already installed–there are no rails to put into place. Elevator installers will tell you that because there is heavy lifting involved, as well as working in a cramped, vertical elevator shaft, rail installation is one of the most hazardous tasks to tackle in a traditional installation. With a commercial quality modular elevator, they and the car are installed in the factory which leads to another safety advantage.
However, if you must work around a stick-built shaft, follow these tips to avoid becoming a statistic and taking a long fall down the open hoistway:
- Stay out – If you are not a licensed professional, stay out of the elevator hoistway. If you are an elevator professional, remember your training, don’t get sloppy and never risk injury.
- Personal fall arrest system – If you are working in an area where you can fall more than six feet, a deceleration device or body harness is needed. Safety nets may also be part of the system.
- Cover the openings – Most of the falls involving elevators are missteps through open shafts or openings for elevator doors. Cover any floor hole where people are walking and make sure it is clearly marked “hole.” If you are working near an open elevator door, make sure it is marked well and a guardrail is put into place.
- Have an extra spotter – When you are directing a crane operator or moving an object where you cannot see your feet, get extra help to watch out for holes and openings, and objects or terrain that could cause a stumble.
- Training is a must – Make sure everyone on the job site has had the proper safety training. Proper safety gear and techniques can save lives.
- Get help for any heavy lifting – Rail installation is not a one person job, so don’t try to be a superhero.
- Analyze the job site for potential hazards before you start work and make sure you are well acquainted with any dangers or risks – Make a plan to deal with those risks and follow that plan.
According to OSHA, of the four fatal accidents (falls, struck by object, electrocution, caught in/between), falls account for a third of construction fatalities. Do what you can to eliminate the possibilities of a job site fall. Lastly, if the safety of the construction crew is a high priority for your project, consider an alternative to stick-built elevators. One option is a quality commercial modular elevator as an alternative.