Home Elevators a Safety Threat for Children

James R. Hood
James R. Hood

Home elevators seem harmless enough. They help seniors and disabled people move around their homes more easily and they’re generally considered an enviable safety measure for those who can afford them.

But, like swimming pools and hot tubs, they can pose a deadly hazard for children. Although incidents are relatively rare, when accidents happen they are serious, causing severe injury or even death. At least eight children have been killed in home elevator accidents since 1981, according to a Washington Post investigation.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has known of the risk for years but did not issue a safety recall until last week.

The problem is a simple one – children can become trapped in the few inches of space between a home elevator’s exterior landing door and the door on the elevator car. A child who is in the space can be crushed when the elevator begins to move.

The CPSC recall will require the installation of a space guard in the door gap, at a cost of $100 to $200 per unit. The recall applies only to Otis Elevator and units that carry its CemcoLift brand.

Under the restrictions imposed on the CPSC by Congress, acting on behalf of lobbyists, nearly all recalls are “voluntary,” meaning that the company has agreed to carry them out. If a company refuses, a recall can be delayed nearly indefinitely, as critics say is the case with home elevators.

Nevertheless, the Otis recall may spur other companies to take notice and begin making voluntary improvements to the safety of their home elevators, the chairman of the CPSC told the Post.

“It should serve not only to avoid needless tragedies,” Robert Adler, chairman of CPSC, said, “but also stand as a strong precedent for the entire industry.”

The Post reported that the elevator industry has known of the child-entrapment problem for years but has fought efforts by regulators and victims’ families to require preventive measures. Otis has stood alone in making voluntary improvements to its elevators and has even warned other companies, the newspaper said.

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James R. Hood

Jim is a publishing entrepreneur and journalist. He founded ConsumerAffairs in 1998 and earlier was the founder of Zapnews, after holding executive posts at the Associated Press.