The year 2017 will be remembered as the year of the “Reliable Elevator” discussions. Our company President, Doug Guderian, first posted a blog” The Reliable Elevators Act – How this Affects YOU…” in April 2017 outlining the potential effects of this Act (Bill 109 introduced by MPP Han Dong in March 2017). The National Elevator and Escalator Association (NEEA) responded with their critique of the bill in October 2017 and provided their recommendations (found here: NEEA Response). We applaud the NEEA for taking this step and we agree with many of their insights and recommendations.
Yet . . . with all these discussions, I feel the need to scream: “What about the Elephants in the Room?!!”
I applaud MPP Han Dong for wading into the murky waters of elevators – an industry filled with formidable players. After Doug Guderian, representing an industry association, met with MPP Dong, Doug noted that MPP Dong seems to be genuinely concerned about the welfare of his constituents. However, Bill 109 also gave MPP Dong more than his fair share of face time in the press, which is something that most public figures relish. I am quite certain NEEA’s first recommendation, at least in part, had MPP Dong in mind when they penned it: “1. Consider safety before politics. Changes to elevator regulations in Ontario must be guided by evidence-based decision making.” I am also quite certain that NEEA had the Technical Standard Safety Authority (TSSA), who is responsible for delivering elevator safety services on behalf of the Ontario government, in mind with this recommendation.
The NEEA report alludes to the responsibility of building owners with their elevators, a point rarely noted by governing bodies or the media. I’d like to address one in particular: “8. Re-implement the directive to retrofit single speed elevators.”
Without pulling punches, the NEEA’s report says: “Earlier this year, in a short sighted and frankly baffling decision, the TSSA decided to rescind its three-year old directive regarding the upgrading of single speed elevators”.
To provide context, single speed elevators were installed prior to the late 1970’s and they were a low-cost technology even at the time. The issue is that they often fail to level properly and create trip/fall hazards to all passengers as well as potential barriers to the disabled. Due to the limitations of the equipment, a mechanic can adjust such an elevator, and within an hour of doing so, there could be a levelling gap of as much as a foot.
In May 2014, TSSA implemented Directors Orders which mandated owners to modernize such elevators (over a 5-year period beginning with the oldest elevators). In November 2016, at a Town Hall Meeting in which our company participated, TSSA representatives floated the idea of reversing this decision, due to lack of data proving the risk. The industry was shocked and vehemently opposed this. Without much further discussion, the TSSA gave the impression that they would not be proceeding in this direction, yet they went ahead and revoked the Directors Order requiring upgrades.
Here is the elephant no one is talking about. There is no chance that the Directors of TSSA (whose name has the word SAFETY in it) who are responsible on behalf of the Ontario Government to ensure the safety of elevators in the Province, woke up one morning and decided it was a good idea to rescind the Director’s Order. Having graduated with a Political Science degree, and with aspirations of becoming a lobbyist when I left university, it is obvious to me what happened.
There are sizeable costs for modernizing an elevator, especially for smaller building owners. The direct costs are $120,000-$150,000 per elevator. The indirect costs of having an elevator out of service for 6 plus weeks (especially where there is only one elevator) is hard to calculate, but is definitely a real cost.
The TSSA has not publicly acknowledged it, but it is difficult to come up with any plausible explanation for the illogical reversal, other than that a very strong building owner lobby put incredible pressure on the TSSA and other ministries to reverse the decision. This is an elephant in the room and it needs to be addressed. Why? The elevator industry (aka, the elevator repair companies) is frequently chastised for safety issues that more appropriately need to be either fully or at least partially redirected back to the owners. When industry experts identify “serious” safety concerns and owners do not heed them, then liability must immediately shift to the owners themselves and on legislators who succumb to lobbying pressure rather than concerning themselves with the safety of the public.
Tune in next week for: What About the Elephants in the Room? Part 2 – NEEA Elephants