Risks of a malfunctioning emergency lift phone

Imagine it is Friday night. You have been working late but you’re finally finished and ready to enjoy the weekend. You walk into the lift planning what you will do during the weekend. You step into the lift and press G. You are writing a message to let people know you will be meeting them later when suddenly the lift stops. You press the alarm button, but nothing happens. You try to call someone on your mobile and realise you have no signal. You start screaming for help but there is no response – it’s late and most people have already left. You are basically stuck in a metal box, suspended between floors, without a way to communicate with the outside world, no food and – most importantly of all – no water. What do you do?

While this scenario reads like the beginning of a horror story, unfortunately it is not unheard of. There have been cases where people have been stuck inside a lift for many days. The lifts were unmonitored, the emergency lift phones were not working, and no one was aware of the trapped person until days later.

Luckily passengers in Europe have been rescued alive from this traumatic experience, however many have then filed lawsuits for hefty sums against the lift owners – these experiences were preventable had more care been taken on the installation and maintenance of the emergency phones.

What can make the emergency lift phone malfunction?

There are many reasons why trapped passengers may be unable to reach outside for help. It may be due to lack of maintenance of the equipment or perhaps the unforeseen consequence of poorly planned cost cutting. Let us review each one in detail as well as how these can be addressed.

The (backup) battery has run out and as it is unmonitored, no one has noticed it

This is an increasingly riskier factor as phone lines are moved to fibre, meaning that they are no longer supported by the voltage that used to be carried by copper lines, and therefore battery backups need to be added to older emergency phone systems, which relied on power from the phone line, to ensure they continue to work in the event of a power failure. With this change, battery backups will also need to be added to the phone line as well as for the emergency telephone equipment itself.

However, a key point that can be overlooked is that it is not enough to simply add battery backups. These need to be monitored on a regular basis as they could easily be drained out of power and go unnoticed until it is too late.

Monitoring a backup battery

Using an integrated battery backup, such as the one included in the Digital Communication Platform (DCP) means that the battery can be monitored remotely (e.g. via the Avire Hub) and replacements can be planned ahead to reduce any risks to the passenger.

A battery backup can also be added to the phone line or, alternatively a switch to lift optimised SIM cards can ensure the communication link is active when it’s needed most.

The alarm button is not working

This is a mechanical failure whereby the actual button in the lift has become jammed or broken in some other way. Phone lines and device status can be tested remotely. The alarm button will need to be manually pressed by someone on site to ensure it is working properly. Typically, part of regular maintenance visits will include this step.

To prevent an unnoticed equipment failure, the lift maintenance company should test the button regularly

The speaker or the microphone are broken, and nobody has noticed it because the 3-day test calls are not being placed

In compliance with European Standard EN81-28, test calls should take place every 3-days to ensure that an alarm call can be placed when needed and the systems is in full working order. If something malfunctions and the 3-day test calls fails, this raises an immediate alert that the system needs to be checked and repaired. However, when these tests are not being placed, any issues with the process will remain unnoticed.

Real-time notifications of call failures

By setting up regular test calls, via a dedicated software platform, for example the AVIRE Hub, real time alerts can be sent to notify that as test call has failed. This test call log also provides an audit trail of compliance, which demonstrates compliance to the standards and a proactive effort to ensure passenger safety.

Only one alarm number is programmed into the alarm unit and that number is not answered

When the emergency phone system is fitted, the emergency phone number will be programmed to ensure the designated call centre receives the call. However, as time passes, the number or even the provider might change so the system should be updated accordingly to ensure there is no risk of an unanswered emergency call. Most emergency lift pheons can also support multiple alarm numbers, with multiple dialling attempts to each number, to ensure the call is answered.

A phone is not fitted and therefore the lift relies on a top of car sounder which no one in the building can hear or knows what it refers to

Pre 1997, in the UK, there was no requirement 2-way communications in the lift car, just a siren (sounder) on the top of the car so people in the building could hear the noise. However, there is a risk that the alarm might not be recognised or even heard by people outside the lift.

Legacy equipment needs to be updated for regular monitoring

As technology evolves, legacy equipment should be updated to ensure it can benefit from live monitoring, providing alerts if the emergency system is activated or malfunctions.

The SIM card has run out of credit or lost signal, or the phone line has been cancelled (or may not work during a power cut)

When using generic consumer SIM cards for GSM gateways, be aware that these may run out of credit and not offer any notifications to indicate that a top up is required.

Most generic SIM cards will also be linked to a network which means that when operating inside a moving lift they are more likely to lose connectivity to a network, losing access to a signal.

Alternatively, the phone line may have been disconnected without anyone realising the risk this poses until it may be too late. An additional risk is that new fibre phone lines do not work during a power outage – a time when an entrapment is more likely to happen.

Don’t cut costs that can put passengers at risk

Investing in a SIM card that will work in a lift and has unlimited usage can be critical. High street SIM cards are made for mobile phones, which means they are not optimised to function in a lift with shifting network strengths.

A lift optimised roaming SIM card, such as the AVIRE SIM Card provides real time alerts when there has been an increased usage to ensure safety measures can be taken in time.

By offering M2M non steered roaming the connection remains strong at all times, because the Sim card is not be linked to a specific network so that you may rely on any emergency calls going through.


Contact us for more information on the most trustworthy lift emergency phones in the market.


Author: Milagros Gamero, EU Marketing Communications Manager at AVIRE

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