On 17 January, the lift in the RUG building at the Antonius Deusinglaan 1 was on its way to the ninth floor with fourteen passengers. The ninth floor is the building’s top floor. The lift was supposed to be able to carry sixteen people. But when the lift reached the top, something went wrong: the brakes failed and the lift fell down at thirty kilometres per hour. The emergency brake engages and stopped the lift between the sixth and fifth floor.
The passenger spent a panicky hour waiting for a maintenance worker, who tried to pull the lift towards a set of doors but failed. He then disabled the emergency brakes, which is in accordance with protocol, thinking the normal brakes would hold the lift up. But the lift fell again, this time all the way down to the basement, where it hit a hydraulic buffer. One of the passengers was treated at the UMCG.
The victims are doing ‘okay’, says board president Jouke de Vries. While some are suffering from physical complaints – a fall like that is hard on the knees – the psychological issues are more prevalent. ‘You can imagine what it’s like being in an accident like that. Some people don’t really know whether they can trust machinery again. Is it safe?’
The investigation into the accident revealed that the brakes weren’t calibrated correctly and that the lift was off-balance. The defect in the brakes had been discovered in June of last year, but the maintenance company hadn’t fixed it. Also: the balance hadn’t been tested correctly, an independent certification agency determined, which meant the lift cage was heavier than the counterweight.
The eleven other lifts in the building were all meticulously tested after the accident and determined to be safe. The lift involved in the accident had outfitted with a new motor in May of last year, and was therefore the only one that was unsafe, the investigation concluded. The other lifts will undergo major maintenance soon, to make sure they’re absolutely safe. The contract with the maintenance company that failed to calibrate the brakes correctly recently ended.
Bags of salt
The RUG has offered help to the fourteen lift passengers, who were all students or employees connected to a research group in the pharmaceutical department. The university’s insurance is paying for the help. ‘That’s between the RUG’s insurance company and the companies involved’, said De Vries. ‘We don’t want to burden the victims with any of that.’
Investigators filled the lift with bags of salt to recreate the accident to determine what happened. The lift will be completely replaced.