Elevators still a death trap for KP Park residents in Chennai

A lift operator employed at the resettlement said, “I have operated lifts in various places, including hotels, and they are usually equipped with ARD systems.
Residents say key safety features for elevators like Automatic Rescue Device system, UPS not installed, generator non-functional in some blocks
Residents say key safety features for elevators like Automatic Rescue Device system, UPS not installed, generator non-functional in some blocks Photo | P Jawahar, EPS

CHENNAI: After a 60-year-old man recently fell to death in an elevator shaft in TNUHDB’s KP Park tenements in Pulianthope, the residents said not much had been done to enhance elevator safety even after the fatal incident. Owing to the looming risk posed by the elevators, the residents, irrespective of age and physical condition, are forced to climb several flights of stairs to reach their homes.

During a visit by TNIE to the Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board (TNUHDB) tenements, residents said that crucial safety features for elevators such as Automatic Rescue Device (ARD) system or Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) were not installed in some blocks. The generator has been non-functional and power outages occur often, leading to multiple instances of individuals getting trapped in elevators and requiring urgent rescue.

A lift operator employed at the resettlement said, “I have operated lifts in various places, including hotels, and they are usually equipped with ARD systems. The absence of such a system here leads to people getting trapped during power outages and we have to coordinate rescue as soon as possible.”

Explaining the issue further, a lift mechanic, who undertakes work in the area, said, “An elevator ARD system is designed to safely bring passengers to the nearest floor and automatically open the doors in case of a power failure, operating with a backup power source like batteries. In contrast, a UPS is a broader power-backup system. However, the elevators of some blocks at KP Park resettlement lack both.”

While this was the first fatality in an elevator shaft in the tenements, elevator malfunctions due to power outages are commonly reported. Shared power lines connecting water motors, elevators, and some houses lead to heavy power loads. Whenever one of these systems is shut down for repair, the other systems also become inoperable.

Y Monisha (22), a resident of E Block, said, “Our block has four lifts, but only one or two are operational at any given time and the 250 families have to rely on just two lifts. Furthermore, many buttons in the lift don’t work.”

She recounted an incident from a few months ago when several residents, including a child, were trapped in a lift for half an hour. The child nearly fainted, and others also struggled to breathe by the time they were released. G Sathishkumar, son of Ganesan, who succumbed in the recent elevator shaft incident at KP Park, said if only a generator was functioning at the time, the tragedy could have been averted.

According to Vanessa Peter, the founder of IRCDUC, a community-centric hub for deprived urban communities, the state should engage a third party to conduct an independent audit for assessing the quality of elevators, houses and other infrastructure facilities at the settlement. “The process, timeline and report should be shared with the stakeholders. A departmental enquiry should also be conducted,” she added.

Speaking to TNIE, a TNUHBD official denied the lack of ARD systems in the 28 elevators there. He claimed that the recent fatal incident where the lift was stuck between the seventh and eighth floors, occurred only because one phase of the three-phase connection was cut.

This caused the ARD to not recognise it as a power failure and thus it failed to function. To prevent such incidents, we plan to install a phase changeover switch to ensure proper ARD functionality even if one of the phases experiences a power cut. Inspections would be conducted in all elevators to check if the ARD features are working,” he added.

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