Why communication is key to lift safety

  • Problems involving lifts can occur for a number of reasons, but the root cause is often a breakdown in communication
  • Without three-way discussions between the lift owner, the maintenance team, and the lift examiner, it is possible for things to go wrong
  • We discuss the importance of clear channels of communication within your organisation

In busy hospitals and other healthcare settings, hundreds or even thousands of patients, staff and visitors may use the lifts each day.

Only three parties normally have legal or contractual responsibilities for ensuring these lifts operate safely – the owner, the maintainer and the designated ‘competent person’ who examines the equipment at specified intervals.

While the lift owner normally has a relationship with the maintainer and the examiner, the communication triangle is often left incomplete, with little or no contact between the maintainer and examiner.

This can lead to problems. For example, a maintenance contractor may record in a logbook that a certain task has been completed, without sharing the logbook with the examiner. Then, when the examiner visits a few days later, they may find the task has not been completed to their satisfaction, but communicate this only with the owner, and not the maintainer.

Delays and inefficiencies

Examples like this can lead to inefficient maintenance and inspection systems, and can potentially prevent lift faults or defects from being remedied as quickly as they should be.

Zurich has a team of 400 surveyors involved with lifting equipment inspections, carrying out more than two million inspections of lifting equipment each year.

John McMullen, Chief Engineer, Zurich Engineering, says: “You can have situations where individually, everybody feels like they are following the correct processes, but there are breakdowns or gaps in communication.

“When an engineer surveyor comes in to examine a lift, they really should have access to the maintainer’s logbook, as it may contain comments that are relevant to the equipment they are about to inspect. But often this doesn’t happen.”

Lift failures can have tragic consequences

Serious incidents involving lift failures are exceptionally rare, but when they do happen, there are often lessons that can be learned about the importance of communication.

McMullen describes an incident in a block of flats where a lift got stuck and the occupant fell down the lift shaft after trying to self-rescue.

“It emerged afterwards that while the lift was being regularly maintained, from time-to-time it would just stop working,“ he explained.

“However, gaps in communication meant we were not receiving regular maintenance reports, so this information wasn’t shared with us. If the maintenance logbooks had been updated and shared, we might have been aware of some of the faults the maintainers had seen.”

Another common problem, says McMullen, is when lift examiners do not have direct lines of communication with the duty holder, who is the person responsible under LOLER (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations) for lift safety.

McMullen says: “It’s vital the duty holder, who is usually the building’s owner, knows what condition the lifts are in, because the legislation is clear they are ultimately responsible for ensuring the lifts are safe to use.”

How to avoid communication breakdown

If you are the duty holder, you should ensure you have access to lift inspection reports and maintenance logs, and that you are aware of all communications between your maintenance team and lift examiners.

You should also ensure your maintenance team shares its logbooks with the lift examiners, and that your maintainers have access to the examiners’ inspection reports.

Additionally, the recently updated Healthcare Technical Memorandum requires healthcare facilities to appoint an independent Authorising Engineer (AE), a chartered engineer who is responsible for overseeing lift service performance and providing an annual audit report. They must also provide an Approved Person for lifts (AP), who is responsible for monitoring maintenance provision.

How we can help

Zurich Engineering currently provides the role of AE for one health trust, and can also provide training for the role of the AP, as well as training for lift stewards and release wardens.

Other services we can provide include:

  • Review of maintenance contracts
  • Review of tenders
  • Maintenance performance reviews
  • Surveys of lifts to see how they rank against the current state-of-the-art for safety.