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Three home elevator companies agree to recalls to address safety hazard that threatens children

Two companies continue to refuse federal regulators’ request that they notify consumers, modify their products

Jacob Helvey suffered a severe brain injury when he was crushed by a home elevator in Georgia in 2010. (Elijah Nouvelage for The Washington Post)
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Three companies agreed to recall their home elevators to fix a safety hazard that has killed and hurt children for decades, regulators announced Tuesday — the latest step in a lengthy standoff with an industry often reluctant to provide the simple fix.

Two other major manufacturers continued to refuse the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s request that they voluntarily agree to notify consumers and make minor modifications to eliminate the danger.

One of the companies, ThyssenKrupp Access, was sued by the CPSC last year to force it to comply. That case continues.

The agency also called out another company, Waupaca Residential Elevators, issuing a public warning Tuesday for people to stop using their residential elevators and lock them down until they can be inspected.

Home elevators have killed and injured kids for decades. Safety regulators won’t order a simple fix.

“It’s an issue that has been going on for a long time,” CPSC Chairman Alex Hoehn-Saric said. “We took action where we could take action.”

Waupaca did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The design of many home elevators made before 2017 allows for enough space — just a few inches — between the inner and outer doors for a small child to slip in between. Children were crushed when the elevator was called to another floor.

Last July, a 7-year-old boy was killed in a home elevator accident at a beach rental home in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

The accidents are relatively rare but horrifying. At least eight children were killed and two more seriously injured in elevator entrapments between 1981 and 2019, according to CPSC records and newspaper accounts. But elevator industry experts say the actual number is significantly higher.

The solution is simple: adding a $100 plastic or foam guard that fills in the space between the doors.

Another child dies in home elevator accident, days after regulators pushed for recall

But industry officials for years resisted calls to make these safety improvements. They argued to federal regulators that the problem was complicated and not their responsibility, a 2019 Washington Post investigation found. The problem has attracted attention on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have asked the agency to prioritize the danger.

The CPSC last year approved its first-ever safety recall for residential elevators when Otis Elevator Co. voluntarily agreed to inspect and repair about 5,000 home elevators.

Three more companies agreed to similar recall actions Tuesday: Bella Elevator, Inclinator and Savaria. The recalls target an estimated 69,000 units made by these three manufacturers.

The companies did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The companies sold elevators under different brand names over the years. The companies set up a website to help people determine if the recall applies to their home elevators.

An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 home elevators could have a dangerously wide door gap, allowed by industry installation codes before 2017.

While none of the three companies’ elevators were tied to any entrapment accidents, an elevator made by Waupaca was, according to the CPSC.

In 2011, a 4-year-old child was trapped between the doors on a Waupaca and discovered dangling by his foot in the elevator shaft. The child survived, but was blinded, the agency said.

“These are terrible tragedies and really can be prevented by installing a space guard in there,” Hoehn-Saric said.

Another child was crushed by a home elevator, just months after U.S. regulators decided against safety recall

The ongoing lawsuit against ThyssenKrupp Access, part of German conglomerate ThyssenKrupp, highlights how the industry has resisted addressing the problem. The CPSC backed off filing a similar recall lawsuit against the company in 2019, despite pleas from victims’ parents.

Additional pressure to act came later in 2019 when a 4-year-old boy escaped serious injury after being trapped under a ThyssenKrupp Access elevator at his grandparents’ home.