Tag Archives: elevator safety

Recently modernized elevator car. New fixtures and interior are just part of a modernization.

Tips – Dealing with an Elevator Modernization

Recently modernized elevator car. New fixtures and interior are just part of a modernization.
Recently modernized elevator car. New fixtures and interior are just part of a modernization.

The cost of a complete pit to roof-top machine room makeover can easily run in the tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the total travel distance, type of elevator, and work to be done. But writing the check is just the tip of the hatred iceberg.

Why the hate? Because modernization comes with a myriad of problems. As the building owner or manager, you have to make all sorts of decisions and accommodations, coordinating the intricate dance of building tenants with elevator personnel. Some need to get in and out and others up and down. Schedules have to be merged, communications opened, storage areas coordinated, parking and unloading allowed, inconveniences avoided, and ruffled feelings assuaged. Patience is the watchword, as modernization work can drag on from a couple months to often over a year. In that time span, patience can wear as thin as crepe paper. Then the anger and hate sinks in as reasonable people become less so.

It is best to snuff out the reason for the hate before you get hip deep, and proactive communication and understanding can keep you from that point of burning rage. Two lines of communication need to be opened, maintained, and nurtured, first to the tenant and then to the elevator company.

The Tenant

For the manager and building owners, it is important not to forget the tenant. These are the people that the elevator folks seem to forget to the point of being considered a near nuisance. The elevator techs feel that the tenants want in or out of the building in the middle of a crucial aspect of the elevator work, or that they interrupt the work with questions and complaints. However, it is important to remember that they, the tenants, are in essence paying for the modernization, as their rent is where the funds come from. But too often, their concerns are ignored or given the back seat. In both apartment buildings and office complexes, reliance on the elevator is the reality for the people who use and pay rent in the building.

Keep in mind that early on, for a day or so, hoofing it up a flight or two doesn’t seem all that inconvenient.  But a week and a couple bunions later, you’ll see the best of tenants question the need for the new elevator equipment and wonder why it is taking so long. Be aware, of this and go the extra mile in communication and convenience. Part of that is being ready and willing to discuss the following in an open and forthright manner if you are the building manager or owner:

  1. Why the update is needed. Is it safety? To bring the elevator up to code? Both? More? Be ready to explain everything, warts and all, pluses and negatives.
  2. The timeline agreed to. Nothing is worse than mentally preparing yourself for a big inconvenience and then having it drag on for weeks past the promised deadline. Give updates often.
  3. The noise. Let the tenants know that working on an elevator can be loud. There is sometimes drilling and hammering involved and heavy equipment being moved.
  4. Dust, dirt, and grime. Let the tenants know that, although every effort will be made to contain the mess, some will sneak through. It is a work area.
  5. Tenants’ needs. Ask how you can help your tenants out or if they have a significant need on the horizon. Sometimes it is nothing more than hiring some strong backs to do extra lifting or getting a hand truck.
  6. Safety.  Remind your tenants to follow directions and signs that warn of dangers.

The Elevator Contractor

There is a similar list for dealing with the elevator contractor. Often they will hedge, but a reputable and experienced elevator company will be able to give you the following information:

  1. An honest timeline in writing. A day or two leeway is nice and forgivable, but beyond that and you should lower the boom. If the contractor is off the target more than a couple days, they either don’t know what they are doing, didn’t do a good job with the site survey, or didn’t follow the Modernization Checklist produced by NAEC. The bottom line is that if they are days or weeks off, it is not your fault but theirs. Let them know about it.
  2. A list of your responsibilities. This should be contained in the contract you sign. Highlight them and make sure you are not the problem. If you promised the contractor after-hours access, then you must provide for that. If you promised them onsite storage, then you must give it to them. Don’t get in the way of the job finishing on time.
  3. Special concerns or needs in writing. Memories are short, so don’t rely on yours. Also, no contract is carved in stone. Add anything that you want to make sure you are clear on compensation and to see to it that the concerns are addressed.
  4. Comparative contracts. Let’s just say that you need to keep everyone honest. Sometimes they all come in close, but watch out if one is really low. They could be missing something big. Check what they are going to do in comparison to what the other companies are offering in writing–not just a nebulous “replace jack,” but each step and item required.
  5. References. No, really, check references.
  6. Non-propriety parts. Proprietary parts are nothing more than a gun to your head for a lucrative, one-way maintenance agreement with the installer. Don’t budge on this point; non-proprietary parts will cost you more in fees and maintenance over the life of the unit than the cost of the unit itself overall.

I know these lists of pointers cannot fully extinguish the angst of dealing with a modernization, but I certainly hope it helps. Whether we like it or not, every elevator will need updating at some point. So take your time, consider how you can help, and drop the hate.

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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.

 

Safety: A Primary Concern of Modular

This traction elevator is one we toured at Elevator University.
Safety equipment 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 two 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.

Click for ways to be safe!

Elevator Technician – Mr. Friendly Says Hello

mrEveryone wants to see the friendly elevator guy with the big smile and the big handshake. After a merry greeting and traditional backslapping, he disappears down the hall and goes to work. Thirty minutes later, you hear the familiar sound of the tool belt jangling toward you and you know you are about to get a full report. But, after 40 minutes of discussing the weather, family, friends, fishing, the best BBQ in town, the nuances of abstract animation in the film noir era, oh and the elevator, he leaves. Both of you are the wiser for solving the world’s problems, but are you lighter in the pocketbook for the casual conversation.

This may be happening more than you think. How often do you actually look at the contract or repair bill and compare it to actual time spent on the elevator itself?  Or do you know exactly what the contractual terms of your agreement are? Some may be billed a flat fee for certain maintenance regardless of time spent, but others may be paying for every five-minute increment. The terms are very important to know.

Each and every person who hires an elevator contractor understands that they will pay for time to repair and maintain elevators.  No shock there. This normally comes in the form of a flat monthly fee with some exceptions for work outside of the scope of the contract. Others choose more comprehensive contracts that cover nearly all costs other than vandalism, intentional destruction or “Acts of God.”  Also, hourly rates can vary widely depending on the geographic location and availability of technicians. Shopping the hourly rate may be a great place to start when looking at cutting the expense of maintenance, but actual time on the job may be hiding a bigger problem. Time actually spent on the job may not be matching what you are paying for.

Here are some things to be aware of that can increase costs.

  1. Forgotten tools – Have you had to pay for trips back to the shop or to the hardware store? Do you know if you have?
  2. Chitchat time – Are you forking over fees to find out what the weather is like in Bemidji or how the Bears did?
  3. Extra assistance – The elevator guys shows up with a team. Not sure if it is training or “bring your extended family to work day,” but you need to find out.
  4. The magic act – The incredible disappearing elevator mechanic. First you see him and then you don’t. Where was he for the past two hours? You checked the machine room and elevator and no one was to be found. Did he dematerialize into another dimension only to reappear suddenly just in time to go home?
  5. Lunch break, coffee break, smoke break – It is hard to swallow paying for all three of these in an hours time but it can happen.
  6. Whoops – The elevator professional drops his pliers from the top of the car and they end up in the pit. Oh well, one more unneeded trip to the dungeon.

These are just a few things that you maybe paying for that you are not even aware of. But, there are somethings you can do to alleviate the problem.

  1. Know your contract. If you are paying a monthly fee that is all inclusive and the elevator tech is a chatty Cathy and you like the banter..who cares. Enjoy the conversation. On the other hand, if you are being charged for every second that ticks off the clock, it’s time to reassess.
  2. Insist on a sign in and sign out every time they come and go. This will accomplish a couple of things. First, it will help alleviate the disappearing act.  It will keep you informed on progress, it will make the technician more responsible and you will have a chance to find out what is going on with the elevator.
  3. Always check the maintenance log! It is your right and if “routine maintenance” is all that is written and it took two hours, there is a problem. Also insist that a log is kept in the machine room. This should be added to your elevator plan.
  4. Open a dialog with the technician. When he seems to be working a long time, safely track him down and ask what is going on. Remember, this is your building and you are granting him and his company the privilege of working on it.
  5. Open a dialog with the dispatcher or supervisor. Do this before problems start if they ever do. You should be on a first name basis with the person that tracks the time and services of the technician. This may also get some of your basic questions answered for free.

Remember the vast majority of elevator technicians are hard-working, want to fix problems right and have integrity when it comes to the people they service. However, that does not mean that you shouldn’t check their work and build into your routine a time to do some follow up and re-reading of the contract.

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)