Maritime loss prevention: Elevators on ships - failures, service and maintenance


( This article highlights shipowners, operators, masters and crews obligation to ensure safe working arrangements are in place for any work involving a ship’s elevator.

During 2018 and 2019, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) received notification of two separate accidents that involved crew members being trapped and crushed by a moving elevator. In both instances, the elevator moved while the crew members were working between the elevator casing and the cage, resulting in fatal crush injuries.

Incidents resulting in crush injuries caused by an elevator are not new, with a similar fatality investigated by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) in 2007. In this instance, a crew member was crushed in the elevator while conducting repairs. Elevator related fatalities have also been reported on multiple ships in other parts of the world.

AMSA believes that such incidents are avoidable through the application of simple and effective risk controls.

Designed for a life at sea

Marine elevators are designed and built to cope with the tough demands of a vessel at sea. Marine elevators should:

  • Withstand rough weather conditions and ship movements, shocks, and vibrations
  • Perform reliably in heavy seas: up to ±10º rolling for a period of 10s, or up to ±5º pitching for a period of 7s
  • Have high-quality electrification and components that meet international marine safety standards
  • Include advanced control and monitoring systems
  • Feature cars and landing doors that are approved and certified by major classification bodies

Systemic failures related to fatal crushes in elevators on ships

Similar systematic failures have been identified in all of these fatal accidents. The following were considered to be some of the key safety issues:

  • Elevator instruction manuals lacked unambiguous and useable safety guidance.
  • No proper risk assessments were in place for elevator maintenance as part of the safety management system.
  • Risk assessments that did exist were not effectively implemented.
  • Crew were not aware of—or did not consider—all of the hazards associated with working in the elevator. An example of this is the counterweights that moved down as the lift cage moved up, causing harm.
  • Untrained personnel were used to carry out maintenance and repairs on the ship’s elevators.
  • No appropriate safeguards were in place—such as isolation lock-out—to ensure that the elevator cage did not inadvertently move while the crew were working in the elevator shaft.


An elevator shaft is a very hazardous environment in which to work. The potential dangers involve:

  • height risk
  • injury by falling object(s)
  • noise
  • electrocution from live electrical circuits
  • unanticipated movement of the elevator cage.

AMSA stresses the importance of conducting a proper risk assessment and implementing relevant procedures, which are applied in practice to ensure the safety of crew working on a ship’s elevator.

AMSA also recommends planning for elevator maintenance or deferring elevator maintenance work until the vessel is in port and utilizing a trained manufacturer’s technician.

Notes on Elevator Service and Maintenance 

Many vessel owners and operators often wonder about finding a reliable marine elevator service company. How does one determine quality? Who is qualified? Must one use an OEM-approved agent only? What does it take for a marine elevator service company to be certified? What are the rules and regulations governing the marine elevator industry?

All valid questions, but not so easy to answer. Let's try and clear up the confusion. The following report provides a guideline for owners of marine elevators worldwide.

ISO and EN

There are various norms for elevators on vessels (or “lifts on ships” as they are also referred to); most used are the ISO 8383 and the EN81/1 and 2 (traction and hydraulic elevators). These two norms give general guidelines on how to build marine elevators and how and by whom they should be inspected on a regular basis.

Owners often think that marine elevator companies can be ISO 8383 or EN81/1 approved, but such a thing just doesn’t exist. The ISO and EN codes of practice only set out guidelines for marine elevator settings and how to perform inspections; there are no diplomas that can be obtained.

The ISO 8383 code (download here) mentions safety inspections.

Clause 12.3 of ISO 8383 shown above contains an interesting but also confusing definition regarding safety inspections: “The maintenance operations shall be carried out by ‘authorized lift maintenance personnel’ ””. What is the actual definition of “authorized lift maintenance personnel”? And how can one become “authorized”?

The person responsible for lifts at AFNOR, the French Standardization Association and its ISO institute for normalization ( steers us in the right direction:

“The ISO 8383 standard has purposely been published since 1986 without that particular definition. Currently there is an ISO enquiry about possible revision of this standard."

AFNOR is preparing a proposal which might be integrated into future revised drafts of EN 81-1 under 3.1.2: authorized person (personne autorisée): “only a competent person with the permission of the owner of the lift may have access to restricted areas (machinery and pulley spaces, lift well, pit and car roof)”.

If AFNOR does implement this amendment, it would finally be stated in writing who must authorize marine elevator service companies. It is the owner, not the OEM or an OEM-approved agent.


Classes (Lloyds, DNV, BV, GL, etc.) only refer to the ISO 8383 and do not add further instructions or guidelines, except for RINA. In RINA’s paragraph about elevators, the need for the owner to authorize the marine elevator service company is added. Quite interesting, this is exactly what AFNOR might be adding to the ISO 8383!

People sometimes think that marine elevator companies can be Class approved, but such approval does not exist. Classes do not have an approval system in place for marine elevator service companies.

Flag Administrations

Each flag state can have its own additional rulings. Examples: vessels under a Danish flag need to have a safety inspection performed every three months. The German Flag requires a safety inspection every 2½ years. China has no rules for third-party inspections at all.

For merchant vessels, our advice is to have a third-party safety inspection performed each year, and a load test every five years. For ferries, offshore platforms and cruise vessels more frequent inspections and service calls are recommended, because of high-frequency use (and possible abuse by passengers).

National elevator institutes

National elevator institutes (many countries have one) often set out guidelines for elevator service companies (for instance for safety inspections). These guidelines do differ somewhat by country, but in general, they are set out as follows for marine elevator service companies:

  • Business processes must be formalized
  • Liability insurance of sufficient coverage needs to be in place (€1 million+)
  • Technicians need to have had formal elevator training, have a national recognized diploma, and/or have a substantial number of years of experience in the field
  • For marine elevators on offshore platforms, special certificates apply (NOGEPA, OPITO, HUET)
  • A formalized plan for safe working and risk assessment needs to be in place
  • All technicians need to be trained and aware of safety.


It is advisable for owners to check with their liability insurer about marine elevator maintenance rules, just to be on the safe side. If a serious elevator accident does occur, they are the ones deciding on the coverage (or not) of all cost. “Negligence” is the keyword in general (having your elevator serviced by a local plumber for example).

"Maker approved" agents

There are no rules or regulations for marine elevator service companies to be "maker approved". Some manufacturers imply the need for it though; they insist that only OEM-approved technicians are allowed to work on their marine elevators; an owner could be held liable in case of a possible incident.

This point is understandable from a commercial point of view, but legally there is no basis for it and no liability insurer can force an owner to do so. In fact, it is forbidden within the EU to protect the market in such a way.*

Some interesting details. Often OEMs service other brands of marine elevators themselves, not following their own authorization rules they propagate. OEMs are also quite reluctant to hand out authorization letters to marine elevator service companies. Market protection of their own installed base can be a (silently) heard reason, but another excuse that is heard in the market is that "it's just too much hassle to manage an agent network". From Schindler KK: “Business style of this kind is very difficult for us to handle, so we decided not to have authorized companies”.

*Note: OEMs can however dictate to owners to use their services exclusively during the warranty period. If owners do not abide by this, their warranty claims can be declined.


  • There is no such thing as an ISO or Class certified company
  • Do not take risks:  ask your marine elevator company (including OEM agents) how they guarantee top quality and safety.



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