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A potentially deadly risk to kids prompts 3 companies to recall in-home elevators

A graphic shows how a child can get trapped in the small space between a residential elevator car door and the exterior landing door.
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
A graphic shows how a child can get trapped in the small space between a residential elevator car door and the exterior landing door.

Updated January 11, 2022 at 12:26 PM ET

Three companies that sell in-home elevators have announced voluntary recalls over concerns that children could become trapped inside and face serious injury or death, federal regulators announced Tuesday.

Bella Elevator, Inclinator Company of America and Savaria Corporation recalled about 69,000 elevators that pose a risk of pinning children between the elevator car door and the exterior landing door. Children trapped in the gap between the doors could be hurt or killed when the elevator car moves.

The companies say they'll provide customers with free "space guards," which attach to the exterior landing door and fill the gap between the door and the elevator.

"Today's announcement also reflects our three companies' firm, continued commitment to working with our installer partners so that future residential elevators will be installed consistent with voluntary safety standards to eliminate hazardous gaps between home elevator car doors or gates and hoistway doors," the companies said in a joint statement.

The announcement was made in conjunction with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which urged consumers to keep unsupervised young children away from the recalled elevators.

"This is an important step that will prevent further harm from potentially tens of thousands of residential elevators," CPSC chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric said in a statement.

There were no injuries or deaths reported involving the three companies' products, but there have been fatal accidents linked to residential elevators. In July, a boy died in a North Carolina vacation rental after being trapped in the home's elevator. In other incidents, the CPSC said, children have suffered multiple skull fractures, fractured vertebrae and other lifelong injuries.

Otis recalled some of its residential elevators in December 2020 over the same issue as the current recall, offering free inspections to consumers as well as space guards when necessary.

The CPSC hasn't been able to reach agreements with all of the residential elevator companies over the hazard, Hoehn-Saric said. The commission on Tuesday issued a warning for consumers using residential elevators made by the Waupaca Elevator Company. It has even sued another company, alleging that some of its residential elevator models were installed with a hazardous gap between the two doors.

"As long as this hazard persists, I am committed to continuing this work and preventing future entrapment injuries and deaths," Hoehn-Saric said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who chairs the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, said Monday's recalls were long overdue.

"Today's recall by the Consumer Product Safety Commission is a critically important step toward ensuring that residential elevators are safe and I urge all homeowners – especially those who rent their homes to guests – to implement the fix as soon as possible," Cantwell said in a statement. "I also urge those manufacturers of these defective machines, who've refused to work with the CPSC, to get on board immediately, before another avoidable tragedy occurs."

Consumer safety advocates also praised the move, saying the CPSC and the three manufacturers were right to address the preventable danger.

"This life-threatening hazard has impacted too many children and families and has been pervasive for far too long," Rachel Weintraub, legislative director and general counsel for the Consumer Federation of America, said in a statement.

Nancy Cowles, executive director of the group Kids In Danger, said the hazardous gap in residential elevators impacted both families with the elevators in their home as well as "unsuspecting" vacationers.

"Whether your own home has an elevator or you rent a vacation home with one, do not use or allow access until it has been retrofitted to be safe," Cowles said. "This is a decades-old hazard that has an easy and inexpensive fix."

A version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

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Joe Hernandez
[Copyright 2024 NPR]