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Stairs Versus Lifts – Making Convenience Safer

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20 July 2021 | Updated 01 October 2021

Taking the stairs may be healthier and safer, but how practical is that in some of the UK's tallest buildings?

Even with bearing in mind COVID-19 guidelines, lifts are still the quickest way to reach the top. Property developers in UK capital cities are more and more deciding to build higher as a solution to space congestion in conjunction with business and population expansion. Elevators have become a staple in multi-story facilities as a practical necessity for accessibility at the least.


"Can you picture the time when accessibility was more of a problem for people and the only way of going up was by taking the stairs?" 


– Tony Sheridan
Managing Director, Sheridan Lifts


"Can you picture the time when accessibility was more of a problem for people and the only way of going up was by taking the stairs?" Tony Sheridan, Managing Director at Sheridan Lifts, highlights that this would be even more ludicrous to imagine with some modern skyscrapers, despite the fact that there is of course always the manual option in case of emergencies.

Experts estimate that the average person can climb between 2,28 and 2,75 steps per second, depending on one’s athletic condition. Taking into account the minimum time required per steps and based on the reported numbers of steps for the following buildings, Sheridan Lifts estimates that this is how long it would take the average person to climb them.



Picture: an infographic showing statistics on the difference between using the stairs and lifts in London skyscrapers.

  1. The Shard 
    Where: London
    Step count: 1,479
    Floors: 68
    Climb Time: a minimum of 10 minutes and 48 seconds
    ​Lift Time: approximately one minute (6.0 metres/second)
  2. The Leadenhall Building
    Where: London
    Step count: 1,258
    Floors: 52
    Climb Time: a minimum of 9 minutes and 11 seconds
    Lift Time: approximately 90 seconds (21-person passenger lifts 5.0 m/s and 17-person passenger lifts 1.0 m/s)
  3. The Gherkin
    Where: London
    Step count: 1,037
    Floors: 41
    Climb Time: a minimum of 7 minutes and 34 seconds
    ​Lift Time: approximately 30 seconds (6.0 m/s)
  4. Tower 42 
    Where: London
    Step count: 932 
    Floors: 47
    Climb Time: a minimum of 6 minutes and 48 seconds
    Lift Time: approximately 26 seconds (7.0 m/s)
  5. The Walkie Talkie
    Where: London
    Step count: 828 
    Floors: 37
    Climb Time: a minimum of 6 minutes and 3 seconds
    Lift Time: approximately 27 seconds (6.0 m/s)



Safety Considerations


The strenuous activity of climbing stairs right after breakfast, just before coffee, or after too many hours of work may not seem all that enticing. However, as we reported on earlier this month, elevators are also a high ranking cause for concern to commercial property occupiers, rated above air ventilation, security and cleaning when renting. This new data from smart elevator technology start-up Uptime has shown that elevators break down on average at least four times a year, with each breakdown taking an average of four hours to be fixed. With more than 17 million lifts in operation globally, that’s nearly 272 million hours of downtime each year. On top of that, lack of use over the last year followed by a sharp increase paired with social distance and hygiene precautions may make them a pressure point for FM’s.

Chris Chadwick, service director from Sheridan Lifts advises, “If a business is about to re-open following the easing of UK pandemic restrictions, and the company has a lift in the building, it might be time to examine the existing lift maintenance agreement. Are you getting value from it? Are you experiencing too many call outs? If so, it could be time to test the market. This also applies if a business has a lift that has maybe been out of action or de-commissioned for some time, as these can be modernised and the aesthetic appeal of the lift car can be enhanced.”

  • Maintenance Requirements

According to the Lifts and Escalator Industry Association (LEIA), lift owners/duty holders are still liable if a proper lift maintenance agreement is not in place to ensure user safety. This means that the paperwork has to be up to date for the lift to be compliant, and delayed checks should be carried out, or conversely, they should be booked early to stay above board. 

  • Wear and Tear

Equipment should only be put back in use after a shutdown once a full analysis is done, as depending on the mechanism of the lift, certain parts can degrade after prolonged stand-by periods and might require replacing. Lifts that run more often with fewer people are bound for accelerated wear and tear.

  • Traffic Flow

Planning ahead is key to risk management. Traffic flow should be maintained constant by providing access to stairs and an adequate number of lifts should alternate between workers. Ideally, one-way routes should be available in both cases, and peak times be identified, so that an appropriate number of users can go in one lift car at any one time. This can also be ensured with extra signage: labelling the maximum number of people permitted to ride at one time is highly advisable, as is adding floor indications if the car is spacious and instructions become unclear. While some consider changing door dwell times, this should only be done with the help of lift specialists, as they can also determine how to maintain accessibility to those with disabilities as well.

  • Visible and Clear Instructions

Simplification of all movement processes is a must, and this can easily be achieved by minimising the effort or time required in following instructions. Some recommendations would be removing any obstacles and distinctively marking the disembarking area, as well as separating it from the boarding queue. This will ensure minimum contact, which could be cut down further with plexiglass between the two if space allows.

  • Cleaning 

While constant cleaning of all inside surfaces is highly recommended, any use of excessive liquids, and implicitly cleaning supplies, might damage the equipment. Alternative solutions such as touchless-buttons and lift-decontamination protective coatings on touch-points are advisable and cost-effective, as well as increased airflow.

  • PPE and Extra Measures

Apart from being an airborne virus, COVID is also transmitted via touch, as it lives both on surfaces and on the skin. While it is generally advisable not to touch the lift buttons or other touch-points directly, that too can damage the equipment when done excessively. A better alternative is washing and sanitising the hands regularly, which could be achieved by installing dispensers at the beginning of the boarding queue and right before entry in the lift car. Additionally, everyone riding the lift should wear masks and face covering, and temperature checks should be provided to reduce the risk of transmission even further.


Article written by Bailey Sparkes | Published 20 July 2021


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