Elevator safety regulated by U

by Karlee Weinmann

University officials said the elevator death of an Ohio State student in late October would not have happened in campus residence halls.

Connie Thompson, assistant facilities director for University Housing and Residential Life, said Wednesday that while elevator cars occasionally get stuck, the type of malfunction that led to the student’s death is not a possibility in University residence halls.

“That can’t happen with our elevators,” she said. “If an elevator gets stuck, the doors stay closed.”

The Ohio State first-year student suffocated Oct. 20 after being pinned by an elevator stuck between floors in his residence hall after an unanticipated descent.

Fire officials investigating the accident said the problem was caused by a load of people inside the elevator that exceeded the 2,500-pound weight capacity by more than a thousand pounds.

In a situation Thompson called “entrapment” – in which riders get stuck in an elevator when its doors won’t open – residential life employees are instructed to stand outside the doors and help keep students from panicking.

All residence hall elevators are equipped with phones to be used in emergencies or malfunctions. The phone connects riders with someone who can provide assistance 24 hours a day.

These situations occur about a half-dozen times per year in University residence halls, Thompson said. Typically, she said, they’re spurred by riders jumping rather than mechanical malfunctions.

“It doesn’t happen on a regular basis and part of that is our elevators are in such good condition,” she said.

The University has replaced elevators in each residence hall over the past eight years. Bailey Hall on the St. Paul campus capped off the project with a new elevator installation last May.

“(The elevators) reached the end of their useful life,” Thompson said. “It’s like a car – if you have an old car, more things go wrong.”

She also listed improving efficiency as a reason for the widespread updates.

Before the elevator replacements, an independent consultant audited them. The consultant determined which facilities were in greatest need of new equipment, and Housing and Residential Life used the findings to produce a budgetary plan.

Elevators were systematically replaced as needed over the eight-year span, upgraded in the same fashion as plumbing and roofing.

Monthly checkups

Otis Elevator Co., which also had the contract to assess elevator safety at Ohio State, conducts monthly checks of University residence hall elevators.

According to the Ohio Department of Commerce, the elevator involved in the deadly accident passed every inspection since 2003.

Otis is also responsible for performing maintenance or repairs as needed between monthly examinations.

Thompson said the need for supplementary services arises periodically, but usually in cases of burned-out lights, broken buttons or other nonserious problems.

To further ensure safety and functionality in elevators, an outside consultant evaluates Otis’ work to determine whether its services have met contractual requirements.

State inspections

All University elevators are also subject to mandatory state inspections.

Since 1974, the University has been responsible for enforcing its own building codes.

Ron Holden, an official in the University Building Code Division, said the University’s responsibility is unique among post-secondary institutions.

While the Building Code Division is not directly responsible for elevator safety in residence halls, it evaluates whether the Housing and Residential Life is meeting standards.

“There are always things that have to be fixed and corrected, but I would applaud Housing on their efforts,” Holden said. “With anything mechanical or electrical, things can go wrong without malicious intent.”

First-year College of Liberal Arts student Matt Kuzma,

who lives on the fifth floor of Sanford Hall, said he has never had cause for significant concern.

“I feel safe,” he said. “I use (the elevator) everyday.”