COVID vs Lifts and Escalators. Thoughts on current and future implications on design and use. By Scotch’s Lawrence Bramall

This article gives some quick-reading advice on how to stay safe & reduce risk using lifts & escalators

Current CIBSE Guidance

Issues surrounding lifts in relation to COVID-19 have been addressed by;

  • CIBSE ‘Emerging from Lockdown’ guidance
  • CIBSE Lifts Group team ‘COVID-19 Recommissioning of Lifts & Escalators’ and
  • CIBSE Lifts Group team ‘COVID-19 Lift Use & Occupancy’ documents

(links at the end of the article)

The above can be read in conjunction with CIBSE Guide D 2020 Vertical Transportation in Buildings, next edition due 2025.

How to use a lift!

Living in the city, everyone uses lifts. In the best of times lifts can make us feel cramped. Now, with COVID-19 at the front of everyone’s minds using a lift can be uncomfortable, especially when they are busy.

So, what can be done day-today to reduce risk?

  • Disinfect and sanitize regularly. Your building management should have a routine process in place to ensure that surfaces and buttons are sanitary. The EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) has compiled “List N” which is a guide to disinfectants which are effective against COVID-19. The pre-COVID-19 standard of cleaning may not be sufficient and, though studies show that transmission via surfaces is low compared to airborne transmission, a clean lift is never a bad thing. You should also be sanitizing your hands regularly, but hopefully you already are!
  • Don’t fill the lift car. The best way to avoid airborne spread in a lift car is to have nobody to catch it from. Lift cars under 800kg capacity should be considered 1-person. 800kg and above may accommodate more.
  • Be ‘antisocial’. If you do end up in a packed lift, wear you mask and face the lift car wall. This will direct your breathing away from other lift occupants, and with any luck they will follow suit.

This is all very well for end-users of existing lifts, but what about new or replacement lift installations?

How should we change lifts?

Building owners and developers may be interested to make their lift installation safer and more pandemic-ready.

  • Don’t touch. Whilst this may add some cost, touch free systems are already widespread for most of the building traffic journey. It just more hygienic this way. Our buildings are getting smarter, and I for one would find summoning my lift car via an app pretty sweet! For more on smart buildings, drop an enquiry
  • Don’t hang around. Specifying lifts to be as fast as is reasonable for their application is a good way to reduce journey time and therefore reduce occupant exposure time where lifts are shared.
  • Breathe easy. Air treatment, filtration and UV irradiation technology is developing, and whilst it may be a little way off from being the standard offering for a lift car, it may well be the future.

How to use an escalator!

For many of us, the commute to and from work is via busy escalators. We are encouraged to hold handrails which come in to contact with thousands of people, which could be a significant transmission risk.

  • Wear gloves. If possible, wear some gloves or hand covering. Even with UV-C disinfection units (those little blue lights which the handrail band goes through) becoming more prevalent, this doesn’t account for other parts of the escalator, or people currently using the escalator.
  • Personal space. On most escalators, five free steps between you and the person behind or in front will give 2m clearance, and of course as is compulsory on most transport services, wear a mask.

Expert Opinion

In regard to lift traffic analysis, Dr Peter’s of Peter’s Research suggests that moving forward destination control might be more widely favored as a means of reducing car occupancy.

I don’t anticipate planning guidance to change in a way that will increase the number/sizes of lifts. I would anticipate the wider use of destination control which tends to result in lower car loadings, i.e., less crowded lifts” ~Dr Richard Peters, a Guide D author and developer of Elevate traffic simulation software.

Stay safe everyone!

Lawrence Bramall



CIBSE – COVID-19 Recommissioning of Lifts & Escalators

CIBSE – COVID-19 Lift Use & Occupancy

LEIA – Lift & Escalator Owner News (August 2020)

Stannah – A guide to cleaning your lift

EPA – List “N”

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