Every sector of the construction industry is potentially hazardous. But workers who install or repair elevators are particularly vulnerable to serious injuries. They also account for a significant number of on-the-job deaths. Yet, unlike the rest of the construction industry, where falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries, the greatest risks to elevator workers are caught in/ between incidents or being struck by an elevator. Falls rank No. 3.
As an elevator contractor, safety is most likely your foremost concern. Nonetheless, it’ important to review your safety procedures periodically to ensure that you are providing the safest environment possible for the people you employ. According to recommendations from the Center for Construction Research and Training, if you don’t currently have these four basic precautions in place, you should implement them now.
Institute Lock-out/Tag-out Procedures
New construction and repair normally come under OSHA’s construction standards (29 CFR 1926), which do not include lockout/tagout procedures. However, according to the CCRT, more than half of on-the-job elevator deaths are due to failure to de-energize circuits or ensure that elevators cannot move while construction or repair was going on. Thus, standardized lockout/tagout procedures are an essential component of keeping elevator workers safe.
OSHA lockout/tagout standards (29 CFR 1910.147) address the control of hazardous energy sources, including sources of electrical and mechanical energy. They require that employers institute written procedures for disabling equipment while construction or repair is going on. For elevator contractors, these should include, at minimum, a process whereby employees who are working on electrical circuits or machinery turn off the power and lock out the circuits so no one else can inadvertently turn on the power while work is underway. Elevator contractors who establish such a policy can help avoid preventable injuries and unnecessary deaths.
Treat Elevator Shafts as Confined Spaces
About one-quarter of elevator-related workplace deaths happen when employees enter an elevator shaft to perform an activity such as welding, cleaning or retrieving a dropped object. To prevent these injuries, it’s important to treat an elevator shaft as a “confined space.”
OSHA’s definition of a “confined space” is a space that:
- Has limited or restricted means of entry or exit
- Is large enough for a worker to enter to perform work
- Is not designated for continuous occupancy by an employee.
Clearly, an elevator shaft meets this definition, and elevator contractors should treat it as a confined space.
Additionally, OSHA narrows the definition of confined space to “permit-required confined space” when the space contains a hazard. Again, an elevator shaft that holds an operational elevator contains a significant hazard, so it meets the definition of a “permit-required confined space.”
To comply with OSHA standards and ensure optimal worker safety, elevator contractors have two options. First, they can follow the OSHA standard for permit-required confined space, which includes, at minimum:
- Informing all employees of the hazards present in the elevator shaft
- Creating a written safety program that identifies the dangers and establishes processes to eliminate or mitigate them
- Establishing rescue procedures should an accident occur
Alternatively, the contractor can declare the elevator off-limits to employees and install locks or barriers to prevent unauthorized access. Then, if maintenance or repair is needed, the shaft can be converted to a non-permit-required confined space by disabling the elevator and electrical circuits using lockout/tagout procedure as described above.
Provide Adequate Fall Protection
OSHA mandates adequate fall protection systems in any situation in which a construction worker is exposed to heights above 6 feet. These are outlined for new construction under OSHA 29 CFR 1926.500-503; elevator maintenance would come under 29 CFR 1910.22(b).
It’s not feasible to outline all of OSHA’s fall protection guidelines here. However, for elevator contractors, the most critical considerations include:
- Guardrails around open pits or shafts
- Sturdy platforms that are adequate to hold workers’ combined weight (These should meet OSHA scaffolding standards)
- Personal fall protection systems when engineered systems are not feasible
Nearly half of all elevator shaft fatalities occur due to a fall. Providing adequate fall protection systems for all employees can reduce or eliminate a substantial number of these deaths.
Use Only Properly Trained Personnel
Many states have enacted laws that require licensing of elevator mechanics, inspectors, and contractors. This usually requires both formal education and documentation of work experience. Some states require a written licensing examination as well.
If you are an elevator contractor in a state that mandates licensing, make sure that you physically inspect the license of every employee before allowing them to work. This can ensure not just your workers’ safety but the safety of the public too.
If you work in a state where licensing is not required, hire only knowledgeable, experienced personnel. Additionally, ensure that every employee is trained in lock-out/tag-out procedures, fall protection, prevention of electrical injury, and working safely in a confined space. This kind of training is one of the surest ways to prevent unnecessary injuries and deaths.
The Carmoon Group is one of New York’s most trusted providers of insurance solutions to small and medium sized businesses. We are particularly knowledgeable about the construction industry, and have a wealth of experience helping construction contractors manage and transfer risk. So why not give us a call today to set up an appointment to discuss your business insurance needs? Or simply reach out online and we’ll get back to you at a convenient time.