Category Archives: ups and downs

The Dangerous Business – Elevators

5b15a81d40a32.image
Women console each other after learning about the deaths. Photo credit: clee@post-dispatch.com

News of two fatalities of construction workers in an elevator shaft in St. Louis highlights the dangers of working in and around elevators. Two workers, not elevator mechanics, were cutting pipes in a hoistway while being suspended by a construction basket. The basket fell and the two men perished, falling to their deaths. The old building, at 1501 Washington Avenue in St. Louis was being renovated to be used as a hotel.

Often in this blog, we can come down pretty hard on the elevator industry. We are part of the elevator business and see its many shortcomings and flaws. But all failings aside, the elevator business is a rough one to be in and dangerous for everyone but especially rookies and novices. The general impression of danger is confirmed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor.  They point out that elevator mechanics are put at risk of falls, falls from ladders, burns, and severe muscle strains associated with working in restricted spaces with heavy tools and materials. Because of the dangers not everyone is allowed or qualified to be in an elevator shaft and significant training must take place so people in the industry will respect the danger and know exactly what to do and how to do it.

People outside the elevator business should take heed and understand the training and knowledge keeps these professionals safer, even though it is very dangerous work. Remember that elevator installers and repairers are listed as the sixth most dangerous profession in the construction field, and elevator installers and repairers suffered the highest numbers of deaths in work on or near elevators, far above laborers, supervisors, iron-workers, and other professions.

So, let’s give the guys that keep you moving vertically a break. Remember that working in and around elevators is for professionals. Do not enter any hoistway or machine room unless you are trained to do so. Elevator technicians are highly skilled specialists and are owed respect for their training and hard work in less than ideal conditions.

Advertisements

Kids, iPhones, Technology, and Elevators

hal-gatewood-336679-unsplash
Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

Just seeing a small child with a cell phone drives me a bit crazy.  Maybe I’m getting old, but have you recently had to have a one-on-one or heart-to-heart with a young child or even a teen that is holding a cell phone? Because they are trained so young and distracted, rest assured the conversation will be a bit one-sided. You will see glazed-over eyes darting back and forth and fingers fiercely and frantically, fleetly flying from icon to icon. Forget finding depth of soul or a modicum of understanding. It is a wasteland of mumbles and stares and epitomizes the bane that is technology.

Based on the above, it is easy to see how the Luddite movement took hold among the English textile workers in the 19th century. They were so upset with technology and potential lost jobs that they vowed to destroy the weaving machinery in factories as a form of protest. Count me as  modern day Luddite. But before we smash the latest IPhone on the alter of dissent, we need to rethink the value of technology, because, whether we like to admit it or not, technology has and always will be a net-plus.

Technology increases productivity, employment in the long-term, wealth and knowledge. It makes our lives easier, in many respects, and often times better.

Take the example of a technology we rarely consider anymore because it is so common place: the lowly elevator. It is arguable that when Elisha Otis had that famous rope cut that was suspending him above the crowd on a platform at the New York Crystal Palace exposition, 1853 World’s Fair and it did not fall; the world changed forever.

Since then, New York and thousands of other metropolitan areas were literally able to grow “up”.  Before the safe elevator, the growth of cities was relegated to horizontal space or how high a person was willing to walk up, one step at a time. After old Elisha, the push of a button made it easy and quick to be whisked away to a different floor, sometimes hundreds of feet higher, in a matter of seconds. Even the term “skyscraper” was not in use regarding buildings until the elevator made it possible.

So why is this important? We are living in an age that has embraced the technology of elevators so much that we barely notice it anymore. “Ding” and we step in; of course unless the “out of order” sign is taped to the hall call. So when that elevator is down, it is more than an inconvenience.  We expect to push the button and to go up or down with ease and we are disappointed, and even angered, when it does not work like we want. When broken, we are forced to trudge up a flight of stairs or two. Oh, the inhumanity!

So, as a building owner or manager, making sure the elevator runs properly is a big must. People are relying on that technology probably more than a teenager and a phone, and the taller the building, the more reliance.

To make sure the elevator is functioning properly with precious few shutdowns, you have some work to do. You must stay in contact with the elevator company. They are more than a friendly face that pops in occasionally, they are your maintenance partner.  Hold their feet to the fire because your relationship with the users (your tenants and visitors) are reliant on them.  The elevator maintenance personnel must be able to do the following:

  1. Diagnose – If it takes multiple times to get the problem figured out, there is a problem. Are they diagnosing or guessing?
  2. Explain – No one wants a problem but when there is one, a courteous explanation is required. They must be willing to take the time, go over the issue, and explain it all.
  3. Solutions – Solving the problem is a must. Constant guessing and return trips shows a lack of experience or ability.
  4. Fast – The maintenance provider should be willing to stay longer and work harder when needed. No one should stand for a slow-motion repair.
  5. Honesty – This is often reflected on the bill. Sometimes, if you don’t keep tabs, you end up paying for dropped tools, long lunches and nap time, instead of repairs.

If you suspect a lack of ability in any of the above, send a certified letter canceling the service contract. You probably should do that anyway, so you won’t get stuck with another five year contract you can’t get out of and that has automatic rate increases (but that’s another blog post). Sending the cancellation letter will not get you out of your current woes; however, it will serve notice with your provider. Secondarily, open a line of communication. Don’t just rely on the person that shows up to do the job, to relay concerns, especially about them! Likewise the scheduler at the office is probably the wrong person to contact about your concerns. Start climbing the ladder. Eventually you will get someone that cares about your problems. If not, then aren’t you glad you cancelled?

 

 

Traction Elevator Safety – A True Tale

Empirestate540**Disclaimer: Read to the end. Don’t stop halfway through, no matter how much you want to, or you will regret it.

The date was July 28, 1945. The time, 9:40 AM. The city, New York. A thick fog blanketed the five boroughs, and the buzz over the fog shrouded skyline was that of a two-engine B-25 Mitchell bomber winging its way to New Jersey from Bedford Army Airfield in nearby Massachusetts. Despite warnings of zero visibility, Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith Jr. pressed forward with the mission of transporting personnel.

Simultaneously, a 20-year-old elevator operator named Betty Lou Oliver, originally from Fort Smith, Arkansas, was on duty in the Empire State Building, on the 80th floor in the #6 elevator.  Elevator operators were common in the 40s. They were almost always young women that had graduated from a charm school, and they did more than just punch buttons. They were expected to know the building inside and out so they could guide visitors to the right floor and represent the building owner to the public.

Miss Oliver was in the elevator when suddenly, the building shook, and the sound of crushing metal and disintegrating bricks and mortar filled the foggy air.

The disoriented pilot had hit the Empire State Building at the 79th floor, tearing a gaping 18×20-foot hole in the north side. The building was immediately engulfed in flames from the fuel, and pieces of the plane became projectiles.  Shards of glass and metal filled the air up and down 5th Avenue. One of the engines landed a full block away, while the other engine and some of the landing gear were thrown into the elevator shaft, where they  plummeted to the bottom. Miss Oliver was ejected from her post in the elevator car, suffering burns, a broken pelvis, and broken vertebrae in her neck and back.

The flames were doused quickly, and rescue teams entered the building, searching for survivors. Betty Lou was found in a pile of rubble, and although in significant pain, she was still alive. She received medical attention and was placed in an elevator to be evacuated to the ground floor. But then things went from bad to worse.

The engine and landing gear that had fallen down the elevator hoistway had hit the cables suspending the car, severing them in the process. When the button for the first floor was pushed and the elevator doors closed, the elevator car plummeted 79 floors to the basement.

This still remains the only elevator car fall due to a complete cable system failure. A standard elevator contains several cables (up to eight), and each can hold the weight of a fully loaded car. Also, there are braking systems in place that stop the cables if there is a problem. Unfortunately, the problem in this case was that there were no cables still attached to the car. So only in this extremely rare occurrence, when all of the cables failed simultaneously, would a fall ever occur. That is why, despite movies and horror stories, elevators are one of the safest modes of transportation in existence.

According to ConsumerWatch.com, “U.S. elevators make 18 billion passenger trips per year.” All of those ups and downs result in about 27 deaths annually, according to estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That works out to a fatality rate of 0.00000015 per trip. If you exclude people who pry open elevator doors and fall in the hoistway or who intentionally misuse the elevator, or elevator techs, then that number goes down even more.

So, what happened to Betty Lou Oliver, the woman injured in a freak accident only to face death again? Believe it or not, she survived. The thousands of feet of elevator cable cushioned her descent, letting her live another day and many more after that. She recovered in less than eight months and even went back to the Empire State Building to ride to the top once more. She then returned to Fort Smith, Arkansas, with her husband, Oscar Lee Oliver. She had three children and seven grandchildren and died November 24, 1999, at the ripe old age of 74.

 

Avoid Feeling Trapped During Elevator Repairs

Trapped elevator Christmas, Elevator Repairs, elevator helpful list,What would you do if you learned that the elevator in your apartment building was going to be down for a month while undergoing extensive repairs or upgrades?

In an article that appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Peg Meier followed the life of Joann Hunt as she adapted to life on the top floor of her apartment complex while the elevator was out of service for a full 30 days right before Christmas.

Meier details the struggles for the 78 year old, active woman that could not negotiate the three flights of stairs in her living quarters. She simply lost the ability and freedom to come and go as she pleased and was left with very few options. To be completely fair, the apartment complex management offered to move her to a first floor unit during the repairs, but it lacked full cooking facilities so Ms. Hunt declined. The repairs in question (to bring the elevator up to code) were slated to take just over a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So she was stuck. What a way to bring in the holiday season!

I bring this article to mind not to indict the elevator industry, the apartment complex, or the elevator service company that was doing the repairs.  Sometimes extensive work is needed to bring the elevator up to current code and make it safer and more energy efficient.  I bring this up to remind building owners that elevators have become more than a convenience, they are essential. This need for updating and repairs can cause interruptions in the lives of those that have come to expect the swoosh of the doors and the familiar ding of the chimes.

So, we’re providing a public service announcement about what can be done to alleviate the stress that similar repairs can make on building users.

Here are some tips that can help you if you are needing some elevator repairs that will leave your tenants and visitors hoofing it up and down the stairs:

  1. Communicate effectively in advance.  Keeping people in the dark is the last thing that you want to do. There is some pain associated with giving people bad news, but that bad news hurts significantly less when a person knows the elevator will be down and for what amount of time. Let people know in advance through fliers, signs, emails, or a quick knock on each door.
  2. Find ways around the inconvenience.  In this story, the apartment complex tried to accommodate the best they could, and it was rejected, but the effort was worth it and likely made the tenant less resentful. Another way to help is to have staff available to help carry things up and down the flights of stairs, if possible. Introduce people to Amazon Prime Now or other local grocery or restaurant delivery services that will shift the stair climbing to the deliverer.  Think out of the box to help people.
  3. Update often.  Even after you have let everyone know the plan in advance, update them on the progress that is being made. People will want to know if the contractor is finishing on time, finishing late, or (even better), finishing earlier than planned.  The farther ahead they know about changes, the better they can adjust to them.
  4. Shop before you buy.  Shop for the repair not only based on the price, but also based on convenience.  Not all elevator companies are the same. Some  have the ability to offer more overtime or more personnel to get a job done more quickly.  Bid out the job to multiple companies and let them know that price and time frame for the repair will be considered in the bid award.
  5. Apologize.  A heartfelt and genuine “I’m sorry” goes a long way, so apologize for the inconvenience often to everyone that uses or wants to use the elevator and thank them for their patience during the work and after it is completed. Communicate this through the same methods and with the same amount of effort as at the beginning of the process.

In the article about Joann Hunt, she had plenty of things to do to keep her busy. She also had friends that helped her during the month-long repair.  She did a lot of meditation and maybe that did the trick, because the inconvenience did not seem to ruin her holidays in the least. However, lots of people would be angry at the notion of several trips up and down flights of stairs for their business or living space especially during the holidays.  Not to mention, 3 flights is a lot different than 7 or 10.  If you take some time to communicate clearly and shop for timeliness as well as price, people may find a little more generosity for you in their heart, especially during the holidays.

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.  See how elevators equates to baseball by clicking here.