Schindler elevator fatality spurs raid

Kyodo, Staff Report

Police searched the Tokyo headquarters of Swiss-based Schindler Holding Ltd. on Monday morning in connection with a fatal accident involving one of the firm’s elevators last week, while the infrastructure ministry plans to check all of the firm’s 5,500 lifts nationwide.

Last Wednesday, Toshiko Maeda, a 63-year-old cleaner at an Apa-run hotel in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, was crushed to death when the Schindler elevator she was boarding suddenly started going up.

It was later learned the hotel elevator lacked a safety feature that would have prevented it from moving if its doors were open.

The elevator was made before 2009, when building operators were required to equip new elevators with the fail-safe system, the police said.

The rule change followed a similar fatal accident involving the same type of Schindler elevator in 2006. A 16-year-old boy in a Tokyo condominium complex was killed.

This prompted the rule change requiring newly installed lifts to have the backup brakes that prevent such movement.

The Land, Transport, Infrastructure and Tourism Ministry, which plans to inspect the roughly 5,500 Schindler-made elevators in Japan, said there are approximately 700,000 elevators in use nationwide that were built before 2009, including 200,000 equipped with backup brakes that prevent door-open movement, as well as 100,000 hydraulic elevators that use oil brakes that don’t require the safety feature.

There are thus some 400,000 technically substandard lifts in terms of today’s regulations, but they are not illegal because they were built before the rule change.

The ministry is subsidizing the installation of secondary brakes on older elevators, but progress has been slow. The cost and time required for such retrofitting has discouraged many elevator operators from promptly applying for the update, the ministry said in a report.

A spokesman for the Japan Building Equipment and Elevator Center Foundation said Monday that elevators installed before 2009 should not automatically be considered dangerous.

“The secondary brakes are for backup,” the spokesman said. Older elevators, if properly inspected and maintained, should pose no safety hazards, he said.