Overall, elevators are remarkably safe devices.
While we’ve all heard horror stories about catastrophic mechanical failures, given the number of elevators in the United States, we really shouldn’t worry. According to estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the fatality rate for elevators is about 0.00000015 percent per trip. Modern elevators have a number of safety features, and as long as they’re checked regularly, they’re unlikely to pose a threat to their passengers.
Still, injuries do happen on occasion, and for people who regularly travel via elevator, the idea of a sudden mechanical failure is deeply disturbing. Here’s what to do if you happen to find yourself in a falling elevator and, more importantly, what not to do.
First of all, don’t jump.
Your first instinct will be to jump at the moment of impact. If you’ve ever taken a physics class, you know that a last-second jump will technically slow you down. However, you won’t slow down by much; Live Science estimates that the average person will only reduce their speed by 2-3 miles per hour. That’s not enough to prevent serious injury, and you’ll have to have incredible reflexes to get any sort of benefit. You probably won’t know when the elevator’s going to slam into the ground, so you’re unlikely to benefit in any way.
If you jump, you’re more likely to hit your head on part of the elevator, and a head injury certainly won’t improve your chances of escaping with your life. You’ll also land with your body parallel to the lines of force, and as a result, you’ll probably break a few bones.
To improve your chances of survival, lie on the floor.
Ideally, your body will be perpendicular to those aforementioned lines of force. Try to remain calm when the elevator starts to plummet; lie on the ground on your back, using your arms to cover your head on both sides.
This is thought to be the best survival technique, since you’re limiting the damage to your head—which, again, is pretty important—and you’re limiting the chances of bone breakage.
However, results will vary depending on what’s under the elevator. If you’re in a complete free fall, some object might puncture the floor, puncturing you in the process. You’re still likely to break a couple of bones, especially if you’re falling a great distance.
There’s also another significant issue: weightlessness.
Since you’re in a true free fall, you’ll have trouble making your way to the ground and securing yourself in place. Even so, it’s your best bet if you find yourself in this disastrous situation.
If you want to completely avoid this scenario, you could always just take the stairs. However, that will put you at significantly greater risk; each year, over 1 million injuries occur due to stairway falls, according to the National Safety Council. That means that staircases are the second-leading cause of accidental injuries (after motor vehicles).
Come to think of it, you’re probably better off trusting the elevator.