Keeping lifts safe

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If you have a lift on your premises, there are a number of health and safety considerations which you should be aware of. Building regulations in Scotland and Wales stipulate that the first lift in any facility must be a passenger lift, and English regulators are expected to follow suit soon.

Passenger lifts are subject to much more stringent health and safety regulations than goods-only ones, because the main concern is keeping passengers safe. Many lifts, especially those in warehouse facilities, are intended to carry goods and have not been designed with passengers in mind.

Despite this, people often ignore the dangers and use goods-only lifts for their own transport. Goods-only lifts are not fitted with the 'sinking car' arrest gear which prevents uncontrollable descents, and therefore are very dangerous for passengers.

While this is a major health and safety requirement of a passenger lift, goods-only are not required to have them – even if they are large enough to walk into. To try and prevent people using GO lifts, warning signs should be clearly displayed around them. They must be unambiguous and not defaced. Failure to display those signs – even though they are often ignored – could cause problems when claiming on insurance policies, in the event of an incident.

Another consideration for passenger lifts is a regular assessment by a Competent Person (CP) – an independent party (often the insurer) who visually inspects the mechanical workings, including the door locking system, for safety at least once a year. The CP is responsible for ensuring additional tests are carried out and up-to-date. The examination regime has to build in these tests every one, five or ten years.

The CP also determines which supplementary checks, from a list of options, are carried out, and the frequency and depth of test. They generally do this based on what they feel suits the particular equipment, taking into account the frequency of use, and age of the lift.

They can increase the frequency of inspection as they see fit, since they are confirming the lift's safety and suitability to continue in service. Without passing both of these assessments, the lift cannot be deemed compliant with health and safety legislation and safe to use. This CP requirement only applies to passenger carrying lifts, which are not be confused with goods onlys.

As GO lifts do not, by law, require sinking car arrest gear, incidents can become more likely. Occasionally they can become trapped, but they can drop at any time, which makes engineers' work difficult and passenger rescues extremely dangerous. Trained engineers must be available on-site for passenger rescues, and depending on the type of lift, either one or two engineers are required.

This applies even if the lift has a modern self rescue system. These are satisfactory when new, but without regular testing and proper maintenance, some systems can be ineffective. Several cases have been recorded where the self rescue system did not work when needed.

Lift owners and operators have a statute duty to ensure their lifts are properly maintained, regularly inspected by a Competent Person, and warning sings are clear and easy to understand. Insurers will be reluctant to cover the owner if any, or all, of those criteria are not met.

This assumes the lift has been registered with insurers! We have been to a number of sites where the lift has never been listed. If that's the case, we would suggest it's an accident waiting to happen, because the lift is unlikely to be regularly inspected for safety or properly maintained. That would leave the owner or operator seriously out of pocket should the worst happen.

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