Two weeks ago, the leader of more than 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide was almost a half-hour late for a public appearance. The reason? Pope Francis got stuck in a malfunctioning passenger elevator at the Vatican.
Elevators have become so reliable over the last several years that we seldom take time to think about their potential malfunction. “Runaway” elevators and vacated elevator shafts make for exciting movie scenes but are experiences we very fortunately seldom hear of anymore. Nowadays, the most common accidents involving elevators are usually linked to stalled elevators, elevators with insufficient brakes or elevators that change floors without the doors closing. Even though infrequent, elevator-related injuries are often very serious and life-threatening.
Various Ohio laws are in place to ensure that elevators remain safe and operable. Those laws focus largely on the construction, registration and inspection of elevators.
Several other states and Washington, D.C., have laws that also govern the professional mechanics who maintain and repair elevators. Bills have been introduced in the Ohio General Assembly over the last several years to expand Ohio’s elevator laws in this regard, but those bills did not pass. Ohio elevator laws were most recently significantly updated in 2012.
Ohio’s elevator laws and regulations are administered and enforced through the Ohio Department of Commerce. The laws and regulations are loosely based upon regularly updated elevator standards initially established by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1921.
Ohio laws concerning elevators also govern escalators and dumb waiters but do not govern the operation of most construction hoists or other temporary, relocatable lifting or lowering apparatuses. Notably, ski lifts and amusement rides are specifically excluded as being elevators under Ohio law.
All elevators (as defined above) must be registered with the Ohio Department of Commerce. Before any elevator may be installed or used, the written plans and specifications for the intended elevator must also be reviewed and approved by the Ohio Department of Commerce.
Thereafter, most passenger elevators, freight elevators and escalators are required to be inspected for safety and operability at least twice per year. Powered dumb waiters and permanent hoists that are not freight elevators and that are not designed to carry people only need to be inspected once per year.
The required inspections must be administered by professionals officially commissioned (licensed) by and through the Ohio Department of Commerce, and those inspections are understandably not inexpensive. To ensure sufficient resources to properly conduct inspections, rates paid to inspectors are set by state law and often correlate with the number of floors that the elevator services.
The Ohio Department of Commerce can seal off unsafe elevators from use, as was illustrated on the TV show “Big Bang Theory,” which regularly featured a sealed-off passenger elevator in the building within which the main characters lived.
In the event that an elevator malfunctions or is a part of an accident, the owner of the elevator is required to file a written report with the Ohio Department of Commerce within 72 hours of the event.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.