What guidelines should I follow for lifts and escalators during COVID-19?

The easing of lockdown conditions mean people working within and visiting buildings will increase rapidly. Invariably this will mean lift and escalator use will also increase. The coronavirus spreads mainly through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose or mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also attach to surfaces, e.g. lift buttons and escalator handrails. If the person then touches there face it be transferred this way. Unless the equipment is pretty much continually cleaned, which is not practical or economic, then lifts and escalators will remain a high risk area however measures can be taken to minimise risks. Conventionally controlled lifts are called from a landing push button. The passenger once inside the lift car presses a button corresponding to their destination floor. Both landing and car buttons may have been touched by a large number of people before you and likely many after you. A simple solution would be to wear gloves and/or clean your hands immediately after using a lift or for escalators, after touching the handrail. Or have a hand sanitizer in or close to the lift or escalator equipment. Currently lift manufacturers are working on more seamless solutions some of which, such as contactless, are available today.

How many people can you get in a lift with social distancing?

Most lifts follow standard sizes. Lift capacity refers to the maximum number of person/kg they are rated for, as well as the actual internal car size. The following list shows some of these standard lift capacities along with their internal car width and depth, measured in metres.

  • 8 person – 1.1 x 1.4
  • 13 person – 1.6 x 1.4
  • 17 person – 2 x 1.4
  • 21 person – 2 x 1.6

With the larger lift cars that are 2 metres wide it would be possible to conform to 2 m (or 1 metre plus with risk mitigation) social distance guidelines with one person in each corner. However, for any lift cars that are smaller, then strictly speaking they could only be used by one person.

The photo above shows a lift that has a capacity of thirteen persons and car size of 1.6 m wide by 1.4 m deep. Whilst not adhering to the recommended 2 m rule, or even possibly a 1 m plus rule (with risk mitigation), the passengers are facing away from each other and this limits possible virus droplet transmission. Furthermore, the capacity is now four persons not the previously mentioned one person. Much reduced from the designed thirteen person capacity, but a significant improvement.

Any particular measures such as indicated above, that do not strictly comply with social distancing rules, should be correctly risk assessed and may or may not be combined with other risk reduction methods.

What is the impact of the capacity reduction of lifts?

In low rise buildings with a limited number of occupants, then in most cases alternatives (stairways) can be used in the majority of cases but heightened cleaning regimes for handrails and access points will need to be applied. In other scenarios, such as more densely occupied office buildings or buildings that are more than a few floors high, then the lift capacity reduction is likely to prove problematic. These building were designed along with the lifts to provide adequate service levels to the occupants. Reducing that capacity drastically will have a large impact on service levels.

What can be done?

Firstly, you need to understand what number or passengers the lift(s) can actually handle using the model illustrated above. We know that due to social distancing the lift capacity has been reduced considerably but what is the impact of this reduction on the overall handling capacity of the lift(s) in the building? This can be done by undertaking a building occupant analysis - working with each occupier to understand how many people they are looking to bring back into the workplace, within what timescale and over what operating hours. The outcome of this forms the basis for planning.

Are there any mitigating measures that can be considered?

Fortunately, there are many, but which measures are implemented will depend on the characteristics of the building and lift(s) as well as the number and work pattern of the occupants of the building.

For example:

  • Stagger arrival and departure times (working hours)
  • Restrict use of lifts to over a defined number of floors
  • For larger buildings, implement one-way systems
  • Re-locate occupants if possible, from higher up a building to lower down it – consider this may be a temporary measure
  • Programming destination control on specific lifts (i.e. allocating lifts to only serve specific floors) could be introduced to minimise the number of people in each car
  • If possible, the lift lobby design could be reviewed to increase its size to mitigate risk of crowding
  • Encourage use of stairs where practical

Where do I go from here?

Avison Young can then assist with coming up with a plan that works for your buildings and your occupants, recommending measures that can be taken to lessen the impact whilst always reducing the risk of the spread of this virus.

For more advice on reopening your workplace, navigate left and right through this resource centre and read our Q&A document.

This webinar and Q&A document reflects our professional opinion of the factors impacting workplace transition in the context of our role as workplace specialists. It does not constitute formal advice and we recommend engagement with specialists, including your own internal or external health and safety advisors, if you are transitioning your workplace to a 'Covid secure' standard. Please also note that the Q&A contains responses to specific questions which therefore may not be appropriate for all types of businesses or workspaces. The spread of COVID-19 and the containment policies being introduced are changing rapidly, and some of the views expressed herein may not reflect the latest opinion of Avison Young. We strongly recommend that you continue to monitor the relevant UK Government advice, and any supplementary local advice. These sources provide regularly updated information on the COVID-19 outbreak: World Health Organization, Government of Canada, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UK Government, Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Case Tracker.