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Maritime loss prevention: Elevators on ships – failures, service, and maintenance

This article highlights shipowners, operators, masters, and crews’ obligation to ensure safe working arrangements are in place for any work involving a ship’s elevator.
During 2018 and 2019, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) received notification of two separate accidents that involved crew members being trapped and crushed by a moving elevator. In both instances, the elevator moved while the crew members were working between the elevator casing and the cage, resulting in fatal crush injuries.   Incidents resulting in crush injuries caused by an elevator are not new, with a similar fatality investigated by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) in 2007. In this instance, a crew member was crushed in the elevator while conducting repairs. Elevator-related fatalities have also been reported on multiple ships in other parts of the world.   AMSA believes that such incidents are avoidable through the application of simple and effective risk controls.
Designed for a life at sea
Marine elevators are designed and built to cope with the tough demands of a vessel at sea. Marine elevators should:

Withstand rough weather conditions and ship movements, shocks, and vibrations
Perform reliably in heavy seas: up to ±10º rolling for a period of 10s, or up to ±5º pitching for a period of 7s
Have high-quality electrification and components that meet international marine safety standards
Include advanced control and monitoring systems
Feature cars and landing doors that are approved and certified by major classification bodies

Systemic failures related to fatal crashes in elevators on ships

Similar systematic failures have been identified in all of these fatal accidents. The following were considered to be some of the key safety issues:

Elevator instruction manuals lacked unambiguous and useable safety guidance.No proper risk assessments were in place for elevator maintenance as part of the safety management system.
Risk assessments that did exist were not effectively implemented.
The crew was not aware of—or did not consider—all of the hazards associated with working in the elevator. An example of this is the counterweights that moved down as the lift cage moved up, causing harm.
Untrained personnel was used to carry out maintenance and repairs on the ship’s elevators.
No appropriate safeguards were in place—such as isolation lock-out—to ensure that the elevator cage did not inadvertently move while the crew was working in the elevator shaft.


An elevator shaft is a very hazardous environment in which to work. The potential dangers involve:

height risk
injury by the falling object(s)
electrocution from live electrical circuits
unanticipated movement of the elevator cage.  

AMSA stresses the importance of conducting a proper risk assessment and implementing relevant procedures, which are applied in practice to ensure the safety of the crew working on a ship’s elevator.  
AMSA also recommends planning for elevator maintenance or deferring elevator maintenance work until the vessel is in port and utilizing a trained manufacturer’s technician.  
Notes on Elevator Service and Maintenance
  Many vessel owners and operators often wonder about finding a reliable marine elevator service company. How does one determine quality? Who is qualified? Must one use an OEM-approved agent only? What does it take for a marine elevator service company to be certified? What are the rules and regulations governing the marine elevator industry?   All valid questions, but not so easy to answer. Let’s try and clear up the confusion. The following report provides a guideline for owners of marine elevators worldwide.
 ISO and EN  
There are various norms for elevators on vessels (or “lifts on ships” as they are also referred to); most used are the ISO 8383 and the EN81/1 and 2 (traction and hydraulic elevators). These two norms give general guidelines on how to build marine elevators and how and by whom they should be inspected on a regular basis.   Owners often think that marine elevator companies can be ISO 8383 or EN81/1 approved, but such a thing just doesn’t exist. The ISO and EN codes of practice only set out guidelines for marine elevator settings and how to perform inspections; there are no diplomas that can be obtained.

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