It’s a question many people are asking after two elevator accidents killed two women in two weeks. Last week, Annette Lujan was crushed by an elevator at Cal State Long Beach after she tried to climb out of a stuck car. On Wednesday, Suzanne Hart died after an elevator door in her Manhattan office building closed on her leg as she was stepping in and dragged her body up into the elevator shaft.
The incidents were tragic but also very rare. According to ConsumerWatch.com, “U.S. elevators make 18 billion passenger trips per year.” Those trips result in about 27 deaths annually, according to estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That works out to a fatality rate of 0.00000015% per trip.
Injuries and deaths are so uncommon that there isn’t much written about them in the medical literature. A 2009 report in Occupational Health and Safety notes that people who install and maintain elevators may become injured in a variety of ways, including, “falls, electrical shocks, muscle strains and other injuries related to lockout/tagout, confined spaces, scaffolds, cranes, rigging, hoisting and heavy equipment.”
The safety profile for passengers is much better. “Because of the intricate, redundant and regulated safety features built in to every elevator, catastrophes are rare outside of movies and TV,” according to the report. So-called rope elevators require only one woven steel cable, but they usually have four to eight cables just in case. In addition, elevators are equipped with “automatic braking systems” that are backed up by “electromagnetic brakes.” Finally, the report notes, “at the bottom of the shaft is a heavy-duty shock absorber system designed to save passengers if all else fails.”