Category Archives: Helpful Tips

This traction elevator is one we toured at Elevator University.

Safety: A Primary Concern of Modular

Traction Elevator OU
All safety gear is a must.

If you work in construction at all, you’re probably familiar with the the term “workplace falls”. Two past headlines concerning workplace falls involving elevator shafts include: “Worker Critical After Fall Down Elevator Shaft” and “Man Recuperates After Surviving Fall Down Elevator Shaft.” In the first example, the scaffolding the man was working on collapsed. He fell down the shaft and suffered two broken legs and a broken pelvis. He is expected to make a full recovery.

The second man didn’t fare as well. He was finishing concrete near an elevator opening when he lost his balance and fell 45 feet, breaking both his vertebrae and ribs. Fortunately, he still has feeling in his legs and plans to walk again in the future. A third recent accident is under investigation, but it seems that it was an accidental fall down a hoistway as well, this time resulting in death.

The first two are the  luckier elevator hoistway construction accidents, as the workers did not lose their lives. But, like all workplace accidents, these injuries could have been avoided. Part of the problem involves traditional stick-built elevator construction. The old way of how the elevator shaft is built is inherently dangerous. The shaft is constructed in the building and as a result, hatch doors are open for months while other construction trades work around the shaft. They are to be closed off with appropriate warnings but, because installation takes so long, the openings for the elevator doors are often ignored and result in a hazard for anyone who visits or works on the job site.

This has a negative impact on both the employee and even the employer. An unfinished and hazardous elevator can mean accidents that drive up costs and lost man hours as well as the human toll of injury or death.

One way to avoid many of these accidents is to have a complete modular elevator brought to the site, craned into place and then installed in a week or less. Modular elevators have all the doors on the elevator hoistway closed and locked until the elevator is installed and functioning. This prevents falls down the shaft. Also, there is no long wait time for the elevator to be installed. It arrives at the site and is fully functional in less than a week. It can even be placed before other construction begins on the building. Modular, in many circumstances, is the solution to the safety problems that are experienced when dealing with an open elevator hoistway.

Another example of the danger of old-fashioned elevator installation are the rails. The modular elevator comes as a completed unit with all the components already installed–there are no rails to put into place. Elevator installers will tell you that because there is heavy lifting involved, as well as working in a cramped, vertical elevator shaft, rail installation is one of the most hazardous tasks to tackle in a traditional installation. With a commercial quality modular elevator, they and the car are installed in the factory which leads to another safety advantage.

However, if you must work around a stick-built shaft, follow these tips to avoid becoming a statistic and taking a long fall down the open hoistway:

  1. Stay out – If you are not a licensed professional, stay out of the elevator hoistway. If you are an elevator professional, remember your training, don’t get sloppy and never risk injury.
  2. Personal fall arrest system – If you are working in an area where you can fall more than six feet, a deceleration device or body harness is needed. Safety nets may also be part of the system.
  3. Cover the openings – Most of the falls involving elevators are missteps through open shafts or openings for elevator doors. Cover any floor hole where people are walking and make sure it is clearly marked “hole.” If you are working near an open elevator door, make sure it is marked well and a guardrail is put into place.
  4. Have an extra spotter – When you are directing a crane operator or moving an object where you cannot see your feet, get extra help to watch out for holes and openings, and objects or terrain that could cause a stumble.
  5. Training is a must – Make sure everyone on the job site has had the proper safety training. Proper safety gear and techniques can save lives.
  6. Get help for any heavy lifting – Rail installation is not a one person job, so don’t try to be a superhero.
  7. Analyze the job site for potential hazards before you start work and make sure you are well acquainted with any dangers or risks – Make a plan to deal with those risks and follow that plan.

According to OSHA, of the four fatal accidents (falls, struck by object, electrocution, caught in/between), falls account for a third of construction fatalities. Do what you can to eliminate the possibilities of a job site fall. Lastly, if the safety of the construction crew is a high priority for your project, consider an alternative to stick-built elevators. One option is a quality commercial modular elevator as an alternative.

Elevator U Report: Maintenance – It’s Just Business

Elevator U FinalRecently, I sat in on a great discussion at Elevator U regarding elevator maintenance. Elevator U is an organization that has an annual gathering of elevator personnel from colleges and universities around the country. The conference is a great opportunity to meet and greet some great folks in the elevator business and to learn a lot of valuable information through taking part in the various seminars and breakout sessions about the industry. One of the speakers this year was Dr. Clemense Ehoff, an accounting professor at Central Washington University. He is a published writer on information specific to the elevator industry, especially elevator maintenance.

During his presentation, Ehoff made a couple of important points about the vertical transportation industry that ought to be paid special attention by those that own buildings with elevators who might be looking to buy an elevator, or by those in charge of maintaining them. It was definitely a necessary commentary for colleges and universities in attendance as many of the points have practical application regardless of the type of the elevator this information might be applied to.

The first comment he made that many may not be aware of is that an elevator manufacturer is losing a huge chunk of change if they do not procure the maintenance agreement when they sell the elevator to the building owner. It is not unusual for the maintenance agreement to be more profitable for the company over the life of the elevator than the elevator itself.  From this simple comment, one can see that when negotiating the price of maintenance and initial cost, this knowledge may be valuable and well worth keeping filed in the back of your mind. It could come in handy to know where their profit and, therefore, their motives come from.

He also expounded on the language of a standard elevator contract. The “full- maintenance” and just “oil and grease” contracts are intentionally unclear.  “Full- maintenance” specifically, according to Ehoff, has murky wording and most companies restrict performance information in the language of the contract. The contracts are very legalistically written in their own “legalese,” and the big elevator companies intentionally use words like “periodic” and phrases like “as we consider necessary” to confuse and cloud instead of enlighten and explain.

In addition, lots of exclusions are listed especially when compared to duties and guarantees. Specifically what is missing is any requirement for any quality and/or standards. Ehoff maintains this is intentional and no accident at all as the elevator manufacturers have set themselves up as the experts and everyone else is at the mercy of their opinions. Ehoff said that the only measure for quality is “call backs” for additional repairs and the fewer times the elevator tech is “called back” the better quality. Unfortunately, there is no standard in the industry to measure these call backs for repairs. Is one call back per month too many? More? And what about the time spent? There are no measures for these questions in the industry or, if there are, the companies are not sharing them. The result is that the quality of the elevator, quality repair, and fair contracts are hard to assess and ultimately assessment is what Ehoff wants to see: concise data about repairs.

To build an unbiased database, apart from the manufacturing companies, Ehoff finished his presentation with a request for help. He was hoping that the participants of Elevator U could help him gather data on maintenance that he and others could use to determine the effectiveness and quality of elevator maintenance.  To be a participant in the study or to find out more about his work, here is a link to his information online.

After all, without a standard and good quality data regarding “call backs” from the elevator owner, there is really no way to know if you are being played or not when it comes to maintenance agreements. In other words, how do you know if your frequency of breakdowns and “call backs” are reasonable or not? The answer is that until there is reliable, independent data, we will never know and will be in the dark as to the quality of the elevator and the maintenance being performed and forever in the control of elevator companies.

In the mean time, while the data is being collected, do the unthinkable…read the maintenance contract and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification and changes if you are uncomfortable at all with any of the terms. Pay special attention to automatic increases and renewals. Also, we have lots of resources regarding contracts available here. Remember the elevator company wants your service contract business! They may be more than willing to make exceptions to the rule. Lastly, if you are not sure you want to renew with the current company providing service, check your contract for the renewal date, mark it on the calendar, and send a certified letter to the provider to cancel service. This will give you more flexibility in coming to a better agreement for you.

Elevator U: The Myth of Maintenance Teamwork

pierre-etienne-vachon-116891 (1)
Photo by Pierre-Etienne Vachon on Unsplash

Long-term planning for elevator maintenance takes cooperation from several parties and often is equated to teamwork. However, the idea that a team is always the solution to the problem often misses the bigger point. At the recent Elevator U conference we learned a lot about the various people that make elevator maintenance systems work but, surprisingly, the word team was never mentioned.

This is may be because when you hear the word “team,” you think of a group of individuals all dressed in the same uniform striving for victory, all pulling in the same direction. Even though everyone’s in-game goals may be different, victory for the team is always the objective, so they cast self-wants aside for the win.

Baseball is a great example of this. The goal of the pitcher is to strike people out, force a simple ground ball or “can of corn” pop-fly, but sometimes they have to intentionally walk an apposing player to ensure a win. The batter always wants to drive the ball for a hit, but every once in a while a sacrifice is required above the attempt at a dramatic homer. A selfish player or someone that has goals apart from on field victory is never a welcome addition to the team, even if they are great players. The goal should always be the win; not the individual’s desires.

Although we would like to think that elevator maintenance is a team sport, with everyone pulling in the same direction and willing to sacrifice for the good of the team, oftentimes it is not. The result is that managing elevator maintenance needs to come with the realization that everyone might just be dressed in different uniforms and they may not be playing on your team at all. This is not because people in the elevator business should be considered corrupt or lazy and out of hand; it is because the various components needed to have good elevator service usually have differing goals. The people it takes to keep an elevator running are sometimes working in opposition to each other so instead of a team, it should be looked at as a partnership.

This is why it’s important to ask: Who are my partners and what are their motives?

The elevator company – They are who you have the actual maintenance contract with and their goal is to make money by providing good service and products. If keeping you happy makes them money, all is good. When you cost them money…well, that’s another story. To confirm this fact, look over your current contract and see who the language favors. You will find that it is a very lopsided document. There is nothing wrong with them wanting to ring the cash register as often as possible. They have a lot of responsibilities which cost them dearly: they employ people with their revenue, provide upgrades and improvement, and even engage in R&D to make elevators safer and better functioning. Making money is not evil, but it’s important to realize that it is their goal.

The repair personnel – Sometimes they are on your team and other times they are not. Often times the technician’s goal is to simply make it though the day with their sanity intact. They have lots of stops to get to and there’s pressure from the company to maintain lots of different elevators plus special projects. They also must be efficient, punctual, and represent the company in person to you, all while making money for the company. They must live in the impossible world of making each customer their number one priority or at least feel that way. They can be reliable and loyal, but their bread is buttered somewhere else. Keep in mind they straddle this fence all the time and a good relationship is a plus. But be warned! You can’t fire them, but you can make sure they are where they are supposed to be and repairing what they are supposed to. Also, all techs are not created equal and you may have drawn the short straw.

Next in the line up is the building maintenance or facilities department – Their goal is, first and foremost, to solve problems, keep their job and avoid pain. A person responsible for maintaining the whole building may know very little about an elevator, but has the nearly impossible task of keeping it running (with the help of the certified elevator tech) and assisting with or making long-term decisions on the elevators in general. Recently, I had an opportunity to meet several of these great folks at the Elevator U conference. The conference is for college and university staff, administrators, facility managers and elevator technicians to learn about and discuss challenges and gain information to problem solve. I was surprised by the number of first time attendees there were and many had no background in the elevator business at all. You may find that a facility manager has technical training in another trade all together or may specialize in business or management and may completely hate the elevator responsibilities as it may not be their bailiwick.

Sometimes they have little or no time to deal with the issues raised regarding elevators and so they acquiesce to the wishes of experts (elevator techs) for expediency purposes. Modernization can roll off the lips of the facility department personnel, because they may not be as concerned with the bottom line.  Also, remember this department or individual is the first line of defense when it comes to complaints from both users and superiors and that’s something else they have to deal with on a day to day basis.

Finally, the building owner or facility manager – This partner has the goal of keeping the elevator running as smoothly as possible with as few shut downs for as little money as they can spend. They may actually break out in a rash if “modernization” or “major shut down” is even uttered. They feel like the elevator is a money pit and essentially believe that, since installed, the elevator keeps costing money in service contracts, shutdowns, and repairs. They know that the elevator is necessary, but ultimately they have the job of running a business or organization in the black and out of the red which leaves them with little patience for stoppages.

This disparate group of misfitting parts makes up the partners (or team) that have the duty to provide a safe, efficient elevator for the public. Holding them together may just be an impossible task.  But understanding their professional goals is a good place to start and always keep in mind that consistently reminding each other of the ultimate goal of providing safe vertical transportation at a reasonable cost. This may lead to more appreciation of each other and, who knows, maybe a little sacrifice every now and again for the benefit of the team.

This is an example of an elevaotr machine room that need signifcant cleaning it is against code and dangerous.

It’s a Machine Room, Not a Broom Closet

colley-elevator-photo-machine-room2There is an old joke that the long in the tooth elevator folks repeat to the new guys. If they happen to make the mistake by saying an elevator has just one stop, the rookie will inevitably hear, “It’s an elevator, not a broom closet.” The veteran will be quick to point out that every elevator has at least two stops or it simply will be a broom closet with expensive doors. Unfortunately, they don’t have a similar joke about the machine room with the punchline being “It’s a machine room – not a broom closet.” Ba dum tshh.

Machine rooms don’t start out being a catch-all, but the open space is a tempting sight for everyone in a crowded building. The result is that some building owners or managers see lots of real estate in a machine room that is going unused, and they lick their chops with envy and desire to fill that void with all kinds of stuff. Just as often, it is well-meaning employees seeking a place to dump items they want to get out of their way. Lastly, the machine room can become a hiding place and lounge for refuge-seeking smokers on winter days and those looking for a quiet place to take a coffee break.

As a result, machine rooms often become a repository for cleaning materials, flammable liquids, brooms, buckets, mops, ladders, boxes piled to the ceiling, files and filing cabinets, banker boxes, rags, light bulbs, chairs, Christmas ornaments, newspapers, cigarette butts, books, magazines and old candy wrappers. You get the point.

clean-machine-roomBut the machine room is not a break room, storage area or broom closet, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) code for elevators makes it clear that the space needs to be left open and safe.

ASME is the American National Standard for elevators, or the Bible as far as elevator requirements are concerned. The current national standard states there must be a minimum of 18 inches to access the tank, or power unit, and 36″ clear in front of electrical components.  Furthermore, nothing is allowed in the machine room that is not elevator-related.

Simply put, buckets and mops don’t help the elevator run smoothly any more than flammable materials like paint and industrial strength cleaning fluids affect the elevator speed. So they aren’t allowed in the machine room.

The machine room door must also be self-closing and self-locking. This ensures that only properly trained elevator mechanics will enter it, and it won’t be a break room for employees hiding from the boss or the boss hiding from the employees.

Why so picky? For good reason. Untrained people could inadvertently damage equipment, or come into contact with high voltage.  Flammable materials could combust and start a fire, damaging the equipment. So the machine room needs to be emptied of all the extraneous items that might have found their way into the room, and non-elevator people need to stay out.

Lastly, each state may have additional requirements, which may exceed the national code. Massachusetts, for instance, requires 24 inches on two sides of the power unit in the machine room. Michigan requires that the machine room door be within 10 feet of the hoistway.  But none of them permit storing furniture and janitorial supplies.

You may be losing a broom closet, but you will be gaining peace of mind knowing that your machine room and all of its components are safe and sound!

(photo credit to Colley Elevator – Chicago, Illinois)

 

Elevator Evacuation: What You Should Know

sfmlogomainpageLife is full of choices, from the clothes we wear to the cars we drive. Americans love having the freedom to do as they choose. But in some things, for good reason, we have no choice but to follow rules and laws that ensure public safety. This is especially true when it comes to regulations for elevators and other modes of vertical transportation. One of the most important regulations is the elevator evacuation plan, and every elevator owner is required to have one.

For the safety of all who use them, elevators are highly regulated. In Illinois, the Elevator Safety Division is responsible for implementing the Elevator Safety and Regulation Act through the registration, inspection, and certification of all conveyances in use. They also make sure those working on elevators are qualified by licensing contractors, mechanics, inspectors, inspection companies and apprentices.

Their jurisdiction extends to all of Illinois except the city of Chicago, and they work to ensure conveyances are correctly and safely installed and operated throughout the state. They regulate the design, installation, construction, operation, inspection, testing, maintenance, alteration and repair of not just elevators but also dumbwaiters, escalators, moving sidewalks, platform lifts, stairway lifts and automated people movers in accordance with all applicable statutes and rules.

Just one part of their regulation includes the elevator evacuation plan. It is one of the more crucial parts of the law that building owners must understand and implement if elevators are used. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) literally wrote the book on the evacuation plan, and it was codified by the state of Illinois, making it the law of the land that the Elevator Safety Division of the Illinois State Fire Marshal oversees and enforces.

In ASME Code A17.1-2007 – Section 8.6.11.4 Emergency Evacuation Procedures for Elevators, Section 8.6.11.4.2 – “A written emergency evacuation procedure shall be made and kept on the premises where an elevator is located.  It is the responsibility of the elevator or conveyance owner to develop such procedures. Note that there is no single procedure that applies to every site and every elevator; there are variables to consider when developing your evacuation plan.”

It is the responsibility of the building owner to produce an evacuation plan to meet the needs of each specific building and elevator.  To help with formulating a plan, the Office of the Illinois Fire Marshal provides the following information on their website:

In preparing your evacuation procedures, please consider the following:

  • Is the site located in a heavily populated or remote area?
  • Are personnel available to open the building after regular business hours?
  • If the building employs a security company or answering service, how might they be useful?

Written Procedures:

  • A written emergency evacuation procedure shall be made and kept on the premises where a conveyance is located.
  • The procedure shall identify hazards and detail the safety precautions utilized in evacuating passengers from a stalled elevator.
  • These procedures should be available to authorized elevator and emergency personnel.
  • You should have the contractor’s number readily available to building personnel.
  • The procedure should include the actions to be taken if a situation is life-threatening.
  • Situations requiring the use of the local fire department should be included in the procedure (medical emergency).

Training and Education:

  • In a catastrophic situation, in order to insure that a rescue by other than experienced elevator personnel is performed safely, the conveyance owner must select and train their employees in the proper evacuation procedures.
  • Building personnel should be given training in the proper procedures for evacuating passengers in an emergency/disaster. When training personnel, advantage should be taken of the experience and expertise which may be provided by the State licensed contractor servicing the conveyance.

Communication:

  • Prior to conducting an evacuation, the following steps should be taken:
  • The rescue team should verify that these steps have been taken, and while the rescue operation is in progress, the occupants of the conveyance should continually be kept informed and reassured of their safety.

Lack of an evacuation plan is a violation of the law that is designed to make sure that everyone using an elevator is safe. To read more about elevator evacuation plans, go to this link. The Illinois State Fire Marshal Office – Elevator safety Division website offers a tremendous amount of helpful information that can be accessed any time.