The unauthorised use of unlocking keys for lifts and lifting platforms by untrained persons is an increasing concern for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which has issued advice to owners.
It has warned of the ‘extreme danger’ of the mis-use of unlocking keys and cited “several serious accidents, and at least one fatality”.
The HSE – the government agency responsible for health and safety in the workplace – advised that owners must ensure that unlocking keys are kept securely, and that staff are instructed not to use them unless trained and authorised to do so.
A care home was recently fined after an employee suffered significant injuries when a door safety locking mechanism had been overridden with a screwdriver.
In another incident a shop assistant used an unlocking key to open the ground floor landing door of a lifting platform which then descended toward the people in the lift-well.
The fatality in South Wales resulted in a significant prosecution.
HSE is aware of two incidents where emergency landing door keys have been used to override the safety devices designed to prevent opening of landing doors when the platform / lift car is not at the correct landing.
Vertical lifting platforms, like traditional passenger lifts, provide access between floors. Usually they only operate over two to three floors and are hydraulically, screw and nut or electrically operated. They rely on hold to run operation and operate at slower speeds.
In both incidents the employees of organisations providing care to members of the public were allowed to use emergency lock release keys to open doors on upper landings during normal usage.
The use of the key in this way allowed continued operation of the equipment under fault conditions. The emergency keys are intended to allow emergency access to the lifting platform in the event of people becoming trapped and should be under strict control.
As a result of inappropriate use of the emergency unlocking key during daily use of the lifting platform, access was gained to the lift well when the lifting platform was not at the same floor level. This resulted in people accessing the open lift well and falling.
At one of the premises a resident died as a result of their injuries, and an employee was seriously injured.
The HSE said organisations which have vertical lifting platforms or lifts installed should review their procedures to ensure that emergency door release devices are not routinely operated during non-emergency situations.
Emergency unlocking should be undertaken only in exceptional circumstances and by suitably trained and authorised people, the HSE advised.
Safe working procedures and arrangements should be in place setting out what to do in the event of an emergency or failure. For example, how to deal with trapped people and the arrangements for repairing faults.
All lifts and lifting platforms must be inspected, serviced and maintained.