How Elevators Work

By: Tom Harris

Safety Systems: Safeties

Safeties are activated by a governor when the elevator moves too quickly. Most governor systems are built around a sheave positioned at the top of the elevator shaft. The governor rope is looped around the governor sheave and another weighted sheave at the bottom of the shaft. The rope is also connected to the elevator car, so it moves when the car goes up or down. As the car speeds up, so does the governor. The diagram below shows one representative governor design.

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In this governor, the sheave is outfitted with two hooked flyweights (weighted metal arms) that pivot on pins. The flyweights are attached in such a way that they can swing freely back and forth on the governor. But most of the time, they are kept in position by a high-tension spring.


As the rotary movement of the governor builds up, centrifugal force moves the flyweights outward, pushing against the spring. If the elevator car falls fast enough, the centrifugal force will be strong enough to push the ends of the flyweights all the way to the outer edges of the governor. Spinning in this position, the hooked ends of the flyweights catch hold of ratchets mounted to a stationary cylinder surrounding the sheave. This works to stop the governor.

The governor ropes are connected to the elevator car via a movable actuator arm attached to a lever linkage. When the governor ropes can move freely, the arm stays in the same position relative to the elevator car (it is held in place by tension springs). But when the governor sheave locks itself, the governor ropes jerk the actuator arm up. This moves the lever linkage, which operates the brakes.

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In this design, the linkage pulls up on a wedge-shaped safety, which sits in a stationary wedge guide. As the wedge moves up, it is pushed into the guide rails by the slanted surface of the guide. This gradually brings the elevator car to a stop.