Where Did I Leave That Release Key?

It may sound like a strange title, but it leads us neatly into a discussion about duty of care.

Over the years, there have been many articles about the risks associated with release keys and, in particular, the ease with which they can be obtained from DIY stores, albeit for different purposes.

The question about access to a release key came to the fore recently in a trial involving a care home where an untrained member of staff used a release key and subsequently fell down a lift shaft. As a result, the care home company was handed a £90k fine after the member of staff suffered serious injuries from the fall.

The company was found guilty of four health and safety breaches after the woman fell down the lift shaft in the care home in North Wales in 2018. It happened just three days after she had started her new job.

The company had denied the charges but was found guilty after a trial at Mold Crown Court and handed a £90k fine with costs of £85,000.

The manager had fallen down the lift shaft after being alerted to a fault. She opened the lift door using an emergency key but fell down. The judge said systems that had been in place were “inadequate.” The enforcing authority said the manager suffered life-changing injuries and was lucky to have survived.

After the hearing, Flintshire Council’s cabinet member for planning and public protection, Councillor Christopher Bithell, said:

“This is a tragic case where an employee was very seriously injured and could have died as a result of their employer’s negligence. This prosecution sends a clear message about how seriously Flintshire County Council takes these matters.”

The question for us as an industry is how do we stop it from happening again?

The reality is that we can’t stop people from using a release key if they are intent on doing so, but there are a number of steps we should take when something obvious jumps out at us as being wrong, including ensuring that authorised persons are adequately trained and also that access to release keys is, as far as possible, limited to those authorised persons.

One of the comparators used in this case was the fact that the trolley used for dispensing drugs to patients is kept locked to prevent unauthorised access. Similarly, BS7255 requires a release key be kept in a safe place.

Where applicable, maintenance operatives and engineer surveyors visiting any building with a lift are recommended to note inappropriate availability of release keys on any reports issued, as the question of why the care home had not been advised as to the inappropriateness of their actions and criticism, albeit minor, of the maintenance provider and thorough examination body was raised.

David Cooper

David Cooper

BSc (Hons), MSc, MPhil, CEng, FIET, FCIBSE, FRSA, FCGI, FCABE, FSOE is the managing director of U.K.-based lift consultants LECS (UK) Ltd. He has been in the lift and escalator industry since 1980 and is a well-known author and speaker. He holds a Master of Philosophy degree following a five-year research project into accidents on escalators, a Master of Science degree in lift engineering, as well as a Bachelor of Science Honours degree, Higher National Certificate and a Continuing Education Certificate in lift and escalator engineering. He is a co-author of “The Elevator & Escalator Micropedia” (1997) and “Elevator & Escalator Accident Investigation & Litigation” (2002 & 2005), as well as a contributor to a number of other books, including “CIBSE Guide D.” He is a regular columnist in trade journals worldwide, including Elevation, ELEVATOR WORLD and Elevatori. He has presented at many industry seminars worldwide including 2008 Elevcon (Thessaloniki), 2008 NAVTP (San Francisco), 1999 LESA (Melbourne), 1999 CIBSE (Hong Kong), 1999 IAEE (London), 1998 (Zurich), 1997 CIBSE (Hong Kong), 1996 (Barcelona) and 1993 (Vienna), as well as numerous presentations within the U.K. He is also a founding trustee of the U.K.’s Lift Industry Charity, which assists industry members and/or their families after an accident at work. In 2012, David was awarded the silver medal by CIBSE for services to the Institution. David chairs the charity that runs the Lift Symposium and is an honorary visiting professor at The University of Northampton. He also sits on the Board of CIBSE.

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