Elevators: Keeping Them Safe

Today, there are about 60,000 elevators operating in New York City’s five boroughs, some of them making hundreds of trips a day. The average life span of an elevator is about 20 to 30 years before it begins to require major equipment upgrades. To a building owner, an elevator is one of the most expensive items he or she can own, and potentially the most dangerous. Elevators are generally safe and reliable, but preventing elevator accidents and injuries requires diligent inspections and proper maintenance.

Who is Responsible for Elevator Safety?

In New York City, co-op boards, building owners and building administrators have primary responsibility for keeping elevators safe and functional. When an elevator is found to contain a design defect, the manufacturer is not required to notify anyone other than the owner of the equipment. Therefore, the general public and the media might not be aware of faulty elevator machinery until it causes injury or death. Those in charge of ensuring that elevators are inspected on schedule and properly maintained have an enormous responsibility to the people who use them.

Are There Safety Standards for Elevators?

In general, elevators are kept extremely safe through strict inspection and maintenance requirements. Unfortunately, the codes that apply are not always uniform and may vary significantly from place to place. In addition, elevators installed before or after a certain date may have different safety features depending on which code was in effect at the time.

For example, elevators installed in 2000 or later are required to have safety features such as detectors for unintentional car movement when elevator doors are open, brake, gear and hydraulic system monitors that will automatically stop a car when there is a problem, and a secondary emergency brake that is activated when unintended movement of the elevator car is detected. Elevators whose installations predate these safety codes are still required to have door restrictors that prevent the car from operating when passengers are inside and the doors are not in a closed position.

Standard for Elevator Mechanics and Inspectors

New York City has one of the country’s most stringent elevator inspection codes. Only a certified elevator inspector is able to truly assess whether the equipment is safe for all passengers. Even so, a thorough analysis of elevator components goes well beyond the annual inspection that is required in order to renew a certificate. Therefore, an up-to-date inspection certificate does not necessarily guarantee that all elevator machinery has been thoroughly and professionally examined. And, while elevator inspectors must be certified, New York City’s 7,000 elevator mechanics need only show that they are healthy and fit enough to carry out their jobs.

In April, 2012 a bill was introduced in the City Council to mandate rigorous training and licensing of elevator mechanics. Citing three recent elevator accidents that had resulted in death and injury, as well as the electrocution of an elevator technician, Council members insisted that, if plumbers and electricians need to be licensed, elevator mechanics should be licensed as well. A second bill aims to increase elevator safety by requiring residential elevators to be equipped with a mechanism that would protect passengers in the event of an elevator car’s sudden acceleration.

The licensing measure will help building owners and administrators to be more effective in their hiring of qualified elevator maintenance and repair personnel. Further, since elevator maintenance workers account for almost half of all annual elevator fatalities, it is hoped that improved training and licensing will help keep them safe as well.

Elevator safety codes can be complicated and require the analysis of a legal expert. If you or a loved one has been injured due to faulty elevator maintenance or an elevator defect, the attorneys at the Orlow firm can provide you with a knowledgeable determination as to your possible legal remedies.