In light of last week’s gruesome elevator accident, in which a 30-year-old man fell to his death in a Hell’s Kitchen elevator shaft, we’re going to discuss elevators in general this week. While incidents like this do happen, elevators are still one of the safest forms of mechanical transportation. There are only about 27 elevator-related fatalities per year, while elevators make more than 18 billion trips. Escalator accidents are far more common, but still not as frequent as people falling down stairs. In fact, about 1,600 people die this way annually.
Elevators make skyscrapers and other tall buildings possible. The first Otis passenger elevator was installed at 488 Broadway, in New York City March 23, 1857. Now, the Americans with Disabilities Act legally requires elevators to provide access for wheel chair users in multi-story buildings. Passenger elevators are commonplace in offices, apartment buildings, malls and department stores, while personnel hoists are used at construction sites.
The low casualty rate is attributed to “intricate, redundant, and regulated safety features built into every elevator.” Elevators are held up by four to eight times the number of cables necessary to support the weight, have automatic braking systems at the top and bottom of the shaft, and heavy-duty shock absorbers at the bottoms.
The recent incident on 9th Ave. near 42nd street occurred on a construction site. The proposed 28-story residential building was constructed up to the third floor at that point.
There was another incident at a construction site on May 15, when Christian Ginesi, 25, fell down the elevator shaft. He was working on the 24th floor of a 30-story luxury hotel near Times Square. In July 2013, construction was ordered to stop due to complaints about unsafe work conditions and the Department of Buildings found multiple violations.
An elevator repairman for the PS Marcato Elevator Co. died on the job in an Upper West Side luxury high rise on Jan. 9. He was crushed between two elevators while working in the shaft.
Suzanne Hart, 41, an advertising executive at a midtown firm was crushed when her office building’s elevator malfunctioned on Dec. 14, 2011. She stepped into the elevator like she did every morning, but it lurched upwards with the door still open, dragging her until she was pinned between the elevator and the wall. The elevator had been inspected by the Department of Buildings six months prior and not cited for hazardous violations.
Other horrific elevator accidents demonstrate the importance of regular inspections and safer conditions on construction sites. While tragedies like those above, are rare, future incidents are preventable.