Tag Archives: elevator safety

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)


Elevator Door Safety

Clutch and Light CurtainSince the invention of the elevator, there has been continual improvement in operation and safety, and elevator doors are no exception. Over the years, there have been significant advances in how doors function to ensure passenger safety and convenience.

Before we go into any details about the hardest working part of the elevator,  let’s start with rule #1: Never try to force open an elevator door to enter or exit a stuck car! That job should be reserved for elevator technicians and emergency personnel only when necessary. They will use a key to open the door and operate the elevator safely. Forcing and prying the door will damage the elevator unnecessarily and could injure people in or outside the elevator. Also, if the cab begins moving while someone is half in or half out of the car, the results could be devastating.

Keep in mind that elevators are extremely safe, but common sense and precautions need to be followed to keep them that way.  As a matter of fact, many do not know that statistically, elevators are the safest mode of transportation around. In the United States, elevators make approximately 18 billion passenger trips per year. Those trips result in approximately 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, or the safest mode of transportation available.

Occasionally, there are accidents. You may have heard the tragic (but true) tale of the man that was decapitated because the elevator door closed on him and then continued to the next floor. Fortunately, these kinds of accidents are extremely rare because elevators have multiple safeguards that keep people in the safest place; inside the elevator car. The doors are designed with passenger safety in mind.

Some of these safeguards include mechanisms that ensure the car door only opens when they are supposed to, which is when the car is safely at a floor. If the car door opens in between floors, there is space between that door and the shaft wall that would allow someone to fall out and down the shaft, causing injury and potentially death.

The first safeguard is that automatic opening will only happen when the car door clutch and the hatch door pickup rollers align, which is when the car is at a landing.

The second safeguard prevents manual opening between floors, as a passenger might be tempted to do if the elevator stops mid-ride.  Door restrictors prevent the car door from being forced open when not aligned with a hatch door.

There are two types of restrictors: mechanical and electro-mechanical. The mechanical version physically holds the door closed until it is at a landing.  Think of a pin in the door track that blocks the car door from moving, but is released by a cam on the hatch door track when they mate.  This pin could also be pulled manually by an elevator technician from the car top. This way of opening the elevator door would be much simpler and less destructive than beating on the door with an ax until the door restrictor bends and lets the door scrape by.

An electro-mechanical restrictor works without physical interaction between hoistway and car doors.  This is an electronic eye on the car above the door that interrupts the door operator circuit, preventing opening, until it “sees” a matching eye above a hoistway door, and allows the circuit to complete.

Another safeguard prevents premature closure on arms and legs.  The initial solution for an elevator car closing on limbs was a bumper edge that sensed when it came into contact with something solid and automatically reopened the door.  As improvements were made, electronic eyes came along, working similar to those on garage doors.  Mounted at approximately waist-height, when something crosses the beam of light, the doors stay open.  Current technology is a curtain of infrared beams that cover over 90% of the elevator opening. As a safety feature, if the beams are obscured for a certain period of time, the doors will close slowly in case of fire and smoke. However, if they are obstructed by an object, the doors will open.

Door safety can be improved by having a technician make adjustments to the opening and closing rate (and no, pushing the “door close” button repeatedly will not change this setting).  Wait time can be shortened or lengthened, depending on your needs.  Speed of opening and closing is also adjustable.  So if your door operation seems to be faster or slower than it should be, or if the force seems too heavy, let your elevator technician know.  They can adjust things so they run smoothly, safely and efficiently.

If you treat your doors well, giving them proper maintenance and adjustments,  they will return the favor by protecting you.  So leave the ax at home and trust that your doors will let you in and out only when it’s safe to do so.

Your Elevator May Have Bromhidrosis

Man With Hyperhidrosis Sweating Very Badly Under Armpit

Are you embarrassed by a horrible odor emanating from your pits? Does it make you self-conscious? Have others pointed out the smell? Are you tired of trying dozens of different products to mask the odor? We may have a solution! A word of caution: if you are thinking about your armpits, you may have a medical condition called bromhidrosis and we can’t help you. However, if you are referring to your elevator pit(s), that dark area at the bottom of the elevator hoistway, we can help!

The pit is where much of the crucial equipment that keeps your elevator running smoothly (click here for info on the pit) is located, and if it starts smelling down there, it may be a symptom of a larger problem. Keep in mind that only a certified elevator technician can open the elevator doors and inspect a pit.

There are three things that can cause a bad smell, and two can cause significant elevator issues. The first and most common, especially in the rainy season, is standing water. The elevator pit is often the lowest point of any building. Water can seep or leak into the pit and if the sump pump has lost power, is plugged up, is broken or not set right, it could cause stagnant water to build up. Standing water can also occur if the concrete floor of the pit is uneven and not sloped properly to the pump hole. 

If water is the problem, the foul smell is hydrogen-sulfide gas (rotten eggs) caused by anerobic decomposition, and breathing this for too long can cause serious health issues. Also, the stagnant water can create an environment for mold and mildew to build up. For many people who are sensitive to molds, exposure may cause a variety of health problems, including throat irritation, coughing or wheezing and more severe reactions. The problem needs to be addressed promptly.

This damp environment is not good for the elevator, either. The moisture can cause premature rusting, electrical shorts, and if there is standing water, it can hide bigger issues with the elevator. Fortunately, the solution is relatively simple. The sump pump needs to be checked and tested regularly. If everything is in working order but there are still puddles, low spots in the pit floor may need to be raised and sloped with grout to force water into the sump pump hole. 

The second smell that is a sure sign of trouble is an oily smell. Oil is crucial, especially for hydraulic elevators, as this is what makes the unit go up and down. A persistent smell of oil could mean a leak in the jack seal, which can lead to eventual inability of the elevator car to travel all the way to the top floor.  This can be remedied by replacing the seals, or packings, which is a normal maintenance task.  Less commonly, the piping or fittings might be leaking and need replacement.

If you have an older in-ground jack, the cylinder might have rusted out, releasing oil into the ground below.  This can have an understandably negative impact on the environment and groundwater.  The fix for this is pulling out the existing jack and replacing it with a new one.

The third unwanted smell is more of an annoyance and was discussed at length here. Basically, almost anything can and has fallen into a pit. Not to get too graphic, but human waste, food past its shelf life and even dead animals have found their way to the depths of the pit. Getting the pit inspected and cleaned is the best way to avoid this problem.

So, if you have an awful odor rising from your elevator pit, it maybe a bigger problem than you can cover up with a can of Febreze.  Get over your pride, call your elevator technician and with forthrightness and honesty say, “I own elevators and my pits stink.” You will not be scorned or belittled; instead, you will find the help your (elevator) pits need!