Safety and OSHA News

Is lack of lockout/tagout to blame for worker’s death in elevator shaft?

Firefighters who responded to a Florida resort to recover the body of a worker crushed by an elevator noticed a key safety step may have been missed while the employee was in the elevator shaft.

Mark Allen Johnson, an employee of SWS Environmental Services, was killed when an elevator at the TradeWinds Island Resorts in St. Pete Beach, FL, dropped onto and crushed him.

The resort had hired SWS to clean up water at the bottom of the shaft.

According to, firefighters who arrived on the scene almost immediately noticed the missed safety step.

A hotel staffer had locked the elevator car on the upper floor before Johnson and an SWS co-worker started cleaning the bottom of the shaft. However, main power to the elevator itself wasn’t completely turned off.

“According to our technical rescue team on scene, that elevator was not locked out,” said Lt. Joel Granata of St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue. There’s no explanation yet about why the elevator car dropped while the maintenance was going on.

OSHA and the county sheriff’s department are investigating.

Qualified person supervising?

Local news coverage of the fatality uncovers another potential problem.

A spokeswoman for Florida’s Department of Business & Professional Regulation said anyone working inside an elevator or hoistway must either be a Certified Elevator Technician of under the supervision of one. Johnson wasn’t certified. It’s not known whether his co-worker was or not.

The President of TradeWinds said at this point the resort doesn’t know exactly how the death occurred. Just two days before, a private inspector looked at the resort’s elevators, and all of them passed.

However, a state inspector who investigated after the death found 13 violations.

Elevator deaths each year

The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries says being struck by an object (mostly elevators themselves) is the third most common cause of fatalities for construction employees working on elevators. The most likely cause of death: falls. Second most likely: caught in or between elevators and shafts. Other causes of these deaths include elevator collapses and electrocutions.

In 2011, there were 38 deaths related to elevators in the U.S. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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