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June 14, 2010

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Snagged cable caused lift to go out of control

An engineer was crushed to death when the lift he was installing went out of control and started moving upwards.

The Old Bailey heard on 4 June, that J. Brown Services Ltd, of Salterns Lane, Fareham, was installing a new lift at an office building near Oxford Street, Central London. The firm had contracted engineer Andy Bates, 35, to complete the wiring for the lift’s control system to get it ready for testing.

On 6 December 2005, Mr Bates was working alone on the roof of the lift when its control cable became wrapped around a bolt protruding from the lift-shaft wall. The cable snagged, which led to a rogue command being sent to the lift’s control box causing the vehicle to start moving upwards. Mr Bates became trapped between the top of the lift car and the top of the doorway as it travelled upwards, suffering fatal crush injuries.

The main contractor for carrying out the work was Swallow Lifts Installations, and it had sub-contracted a specialist lift engineer to do the job. But owing to delays, the sub-contractor had to leave the job uncompleted, so Swallow then sub-contracted the completion of the job to J. Brown Services.

The HSE’s investigation discovered that Mr Bates had no experience of installing the type of lift-control system being fitted at the site. The findings of the investigation were delayed, as it took a long time to establish the reason why the rogue command had been sent to the lift’s controller. It was eventually revealed that a temporary control cable was in use, as the permanent cable had not been wired. The temporary cable was round, whereas a permanent cable is flat and would not have been able to wrap around the bolt, and become snagged.

HSE inspector Kevin Shorten said: “The tragic events at Woodstock Street illustrate the critical importance of having sufficient protective features within a control system.

“Just one fault sent this lift out of control. Completed lifts have many protective features and this principle cannot be ignored when lifts are being constructed. That is why the permanent car-top controls should be used whenever possible, rather than temporary ones.”

J. Brown Services Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £20,000 and £25,000 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it regretted the incident and had a previously unblemished health and safety record. Following the incident, the company ceased trading but it still fully complied with the HSE’s investigation.

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