Maintaining “Safe” Elevators

Maintaining “Safe” Elevators

by Lee Rigby / Published November 2014


Property owners and managers have a responsibility to maintain building components in order to provide safe access and use of the facilities. Modern buildings require vertical accessibility through the accessibility codes and, as a matter of practicality, in multi-story buildings. Elevators have become a standard component of most multi-story buildings to provide vertical transportation. 

Elevators are one of the safest forms of transportation in the world, with elevators and escalators moving more people per day than all other forms of transportation combined—and with a better safety record. Maintenance, repair, and testing of elevator equipment require the use of professionals, and work on elevator equipment must be performed by trained elevator personnel per Florida law and adopted codes. 

There are some things that managers should be aware of, however, that they can do to maintain or increase the safety of the users of this equipment and protect their own and the owner’s liability.

1. Elevator maintenance contracts often make the building owner responsible for monitoring the elevator for any unusual or unsafe conditions and for taking the elevator out of service should any such conditions occur. 

There are numerous safety features on elevators that can and should be monitored by managers or facilities personnel, including:

a. Adequate lighting in the elevator car—two working light fixtures are required except for the newest equipment, which can have one working light if the other comes on automatically upon failure of the first. A single, two-tube fluorescent fixture is permitted if each tube has a separate ballast.

Glass bulbs and tubes must have a means of containing glass in the event of breakage—rubber-coated bulbs, plastic tubes over fluorescent tubes, or the lights above a non-perforated translucent ceiling are the most common types of guarding.

b. Means of two-way communication are required in all elevators. The requirements for elevator communication have changed over the years, and elevators must meet the requirements in effect when the communications device was installed or altered. In most cases, you must be able to establish two-way voice communication with someone who can take appropriate action in the event of an elevator emergency.

c. The door reopening device—safety edge, electric eyes, or electronic non-contact reopening device shall stop or stop and reopen the doors when closing. These devices are mounted on the car door and move with the elevator.

Mechanical-type door edges must stop a closing door when pushed back before going behind the leading edge of the door. 

Electronic types are the most common today and operate by sensing an object anywhere in front of the device. 

If your elevator has the mechanical-type door edges that must be physically moved to stop the closing doors when obstructed, it is highly recommended that they be replaced with electronic edges to increase the level of safety.

d. Elevator stopping within leveling tolerance—for most passenger elevators this is a one-half inch, although for older equipment it could be more. Some newer equipment is designed to maintain leveling within one-quarter inch. Stopping out of the code-required maximum tolerance requires immediate correction.

Replacement flooring in the elevator cab or in the lobby is required to be “substantially flush” with the elevator door sill. Per the ADA, this would be a maximum of one-quarter inch, or up to one-half inch if beveled not steeper than 1:2. 

e. Unusual noises, odors, or operation of the elevator should be noted, as they could be indicative of an elevator issue that could be a safety concern.

If any of the above are not as it should be, the elevator should be taken out of service and the elevatormaintenance firm notified. Elevator doors should notbe left open with the elevator turned off without beingbarricaded as they—especially hydraulic elevators—can drift away from floor level, creating a hazard.

The adopted Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators has the following requirement: Where a defective part directly affecting the safety of the operation is identified, the equipment shall be taken out of service until the defective part has been adjusted, repaired, or replaced.

It is recommended that you do not remove power from the elevator system to take an elevator out-of-service. Modern elevator controls log faults that the elevator technician will use to troubleshoot and repair the elevator, and removal of power can delete the fault log, making it more difficult to locate problems with the equipment.

2. Inspections are required by the state of Florida to be performed annually by a third-party, private QEI certified elevator inspector—except in Broward County where county-employed QEI inspectors performs the inspections. 

This inspection is for verification of code compliance and to witness the tests performed by the elevator maintenance firm. Be sure this inspection is performed every 12 months. Florida Statutes requires any violations cited to be corrected within 90 days and a “callback” inspection to verify correction.

Every elevator certificate of operation in the elevator expires on August 1, except in several local jurisdictions. This is not the inspection date; an inspection is required within 12 months of the certificate renewal. It is recommended that the elevator inspection firm be contracted directly, and not through the elevator maintenance firm, to prevent a potential conflict of interest between the elevator contractor and the inspector.

3. Check before permitting anyone other than a registered elevator firm to perform any work on an elevator—some work can be performed by others such as repairing/replacing lights within the elevator car, but most cannot and some work requires a permit.

4. Monitor your elevator maintenance provider. An excessive number of malfunctions or complaints may increase your liability and is a reason to verify the quantity and quality of preventive maintenance being performed. A reputable elevator consultant may be of benefit in determining if you are getting the level of maintenance you are paying for.

5. Many elevator accidents occur during rescue efforts by untrained personnel. Do not allow anyone other than the elevator technicians and trained emergency personnel to use the elevator hoistway door unlocking device key, which is required by code to be kept on site, available to the above personnel, but not the general public. The elevator code requires training for emergency personnel and anyone assigned to assist emergency personnel in the event of an elevator emergency. A log of persons so trained must remain on site.

6. Know the age of the elevator equipment and when replacement/modernization is called for. Reserves for the replacement of major components should be provided for, because keeping equipment beyond its normal projected life expectancy can create an increase in liability. The major components of the elevator equipment can have different life expectancies, which can vary due to the equipment’s inherent quality, amount of use, level of preventative maintenance provided, and environmental conditions. 

The use of a reputable elevator consultant can be of value for determining when equipment modernizations should be done.

In summary, elevators are moving equipment and must be properly maintained, inspected, and monitored to maximize the safety of the building occupants and guests. It is important to become familiar with the elevator maintenance contract, monitor the elevator equipment, and monitor work being performed on the elevator equipment to maximize the life expectancy, reliability, and safety of the elevator equipment.