Senator calls for inquiry into CPSC over home elevator accidents

By:  Todd Frankel
Source: The Washington Post

A U.S. senator called Monday for an inquiry into the government’s handling of safety issues with home elevators, following a Washington Post investigation detailing how children have been injured and killed for decades by a problem known to the industry and regulators.

“In light of the Washington Post story, it’s time for an independent investigation of the commission’s repeated failure to do anything about this known residential elevator hazard,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said in a statement.

The Post reported that the elevator industry has known for more than 70 years about a hazard that allowed children to be crushed by moving residential elevators, despite a simple solution.

Residential elevators typically have an outer door that swings open followed by an accordion or gate door on the elevator car. It is the space between these two doors — a no-man’s zone only a few inches wide, just enough for a child to fit — that alarmed elevator experts.

Residential elevator deaths are relatively rare but uniquely harrowing.

The problem could be fixed by installing a $100 space guard to close off the door gap, but many elevator manufacturers have resisted calls to retrofit older elevators or warn elevator owners, The Post reported. And federal regulators have not forced manufacturers to take action.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is responsible for regulating the safety of residential elevators, which can be found in an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 homes and other buildings. The agency has known about child fatalities in home elevators since 1981 and has studied the issue closely since 2013, The Post reported.

Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate committee with CPSC oversight, has requested documents from the agency to learn about its investigations into prior elevator accidents and communications between regulators and the elevator industry.

In 2013, the CPSC considered seeking a recall of elevators made by ThyssenKrupp Access after a 3-year-old boy was severely injured three years earlier in a home elevator accident. Regulators ended up agreeing to the company’s plan to send warning letters about the door gap to elevator dealers, who were supposed to tell their customers about the problem. It later emerged that no dealers reported they had warned their customers.

Then, in 2017, a 2½ -year-old boy died in an accident involving a ThyssenKrupp Access elevator.

That year, the CPSC’s commissioners voted to reject a petition asking the agency to require a narrower door gap in residential elevators, citing changes to a voluntary safety code. But that still left hundreds of thousands of residential elevators with a door gap that poses a potential entrapment hazard.

The commission’s acting chairwoman, Ann Marie Buerkle, announced last month that she is stepping down when her term ends in October, following criticism for how the agency handled other products that had harmed children.