2000 NYC Elevators Tagged After Inspection

More than 400,000 elevator inspections conducted between 2017 and 2019 shows 2,127 instances where elevators were given “satisfactory” or “no violation” ratings by private inspectors — only to attract violations issued by the NYC Department of Buildings in the next 90 days. We know elevator contractors are working hard to keep the elevators in New York City safe, so why is this happening?

Every passenger elevator in New York City undergoes a pair of annual inspections but in thousands of cases, elevators are passing those inspections only to be tagged with city-issued violations in the days and months immediately thereafter. This begs the question- is there something wrong with the system?

TRAGIC ACCIDENTS

Of the 35 million elevator trips that New Yorkers take everyday, most don’t go wrong. But when they do, it can be horrifying. Samuel Waisbren, a 30-year-old resident at the Manhattan Promenade , was crushed to death when the elevator he was exiting malfunctioned. He was crushed against the lift shaft between the lobby and the basement floors and was pronounced dead at the scene. The deadly accident unfolded just three weeks after the elevator passed an inspection conducted by a company called LCD Elevator. The scheduled test conducted by elevator technicians involved an “exhaustive review of all the elevator’s safety systems, including the brakes,” according to the city’s Department of Buildings. The inspectors found no violations or deficiencies and approved the elevator for service.

Another incident that occurred in 2015 was equally as horrifying. Eran Modan was stepping into an elevator when the brake gave way, causing the elevator to fall with the doors still open.  In a panic, he turned to jump back up to the quickly disappearing lobby floor, but the car continued its descent and its ceiling landed on him, crushing his head and torso. Residents of the luxury rental building had been wary of the elevator and its unexpected jerks. Despite complaints filed with the city’s Department of Buildings in 2012, the agency’s experts found nothing wrong in follow-up inspections of the unit. P&W Elevators, the company that did maintenance on the lift regularly and conducted annual safety tests, flagged no issues with the agency. Six months after Modan died, an investigator found that the elevator’s brake wasn’t functioning properly.  

A SNAPSHOT IN TIME

Some say it’s unfair to hold an inspector accountable for predicting all the problems an elevator might experience in the months after an annual inspection. The idea of an inspection that’s a snapshot in time and that tells you what the condition was on that particular day. Timothy Hogan, the Department of Buildings Deputy Commissioner of Enforcement, said the city’s elevator safety record is “fantastic.” Hogan says, “We have 70,000 plus elevators in this city. They do over a billion trips a year and in the last 3 years we’ve had one fatality, an unfortunate incident. But if you look at the overall number incidents and accidents that we have with our elevators, it’s probably the safest mode of transportation that you have anywhere.”

How can inspectors and elevator contractors make sure these incidents don’t keep happen? It’s hard to find a solution to a problem with an unidentified cause. At this point, we will have to wait for future developments in the elevator world to ensure the safety of all elevator mechanics and passengers going forward.

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Gov. Cuomo Signs Long Awaited Elevator Safety Act

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed the long awaited Elevator Safety Act, which requires anyone who designs, builds, inspects, maintains and/or repairs elevators to be licensed by the state. The legislation also creates a nine member New York State Elevator Safety & Standards Advisory Board to help establish recommendations for elevator inspections, examinations to satisfy licensing requirements, and enforcement to ensure compliance and promote public safety. The DOB must also start maintaining a list of licensed mechanics, contractors and inspectors. The list will be made available on the agency’s website.

Gov. Cuomo approved the new bill reinforcing elevator safety in the aftermath of a gruesome Manhattan accident that killed a man. However, in a compromise to win Cuomo’s signature, lawmakers agreed to amend the bill and have state government delay implementation of the “Elevator Safety Act” from June until January 2022.

The measure will require the state Labor Department to license mechanics and others who oversee the maintenance of 70,000 elevators in the city buildings and require more extensive education and training, bringing the state in line with standards required in the rest of the U.S.

Under the new law, workers can obtain a license through a few different methods, including taking a written test on national, state, and local codes (with at least four years of experience) or completing a union apprenticeship/other approved training program.

A January 2019 report by The Real Deal showed how elevator-related injuries and fatalities in recent years underscored lapses in the enforcement of city safety standards and a lack of consistency in training of elevator contractors. Between 2010 and 2018, at least 22 people were killed in passenger elevators or shafts in the city, according to the Department of Buildings. Twelve of the fatalities were mechanics.

The law is backed by the International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC) Local 1, which has long sought licensing rules to toughen elevator safety in New York by setting minimum education and training standards for elevator mechanics.

“After a decade of hard work, New York is finally taking an important first step forward in elevator safety,” said IUEC Local 1 business manager Lenny Legotte..

But Legotte suggested more work needs to be done.

“As we work towards implementation, we remain committed to building on this progress and to one day making New York a national leader in elevator safety,” he said.

Other than New York, 36 states and the District of Columbia require elevator mechanics to be licensed.

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Hundreds Of NYC Elevators Yet To Be Re-Inspected

Elevator Inspections

According to a follow-up audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office, the city’s Department of Buildings has yet to re-examine 1,108 elevators more than a year after auditors found that they had been inspected by “ineffective” workers.

Elevators that fall under DOB’s authority must be inspected and tested annually by either DOB inspectors or private contractors. The city’s Housing Authority can perform inspections and tests in its buildings. Likewise, the MTA inspects and tests its elevators. DiNapoli’s June 2018 audit report found at least eight ineffective inspectors who did not work for the buildings department. Auditors recommended the agency go back and re-inspect the elevators they worked on.

But, according to the comptroller’s new report, the department only re-inspected 133 of 1,216 elevators touched by two faulty inspectors. There were 36 elevators handled by the other six inspectors, but the department only re-inspected 11 of them and provided support for just six of those inspections, according to the report.

“Failure to inspect elevators can be a lethal problem,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Last year my auditors raised a red flag about poor elevator inspections across New York City, but shockingly, the problems persist. New York City’s Department of Buildings needs to immediately address the problems we found.”

The buildings department is in the process of re-inspecting the remaining devices, agency spokesperson Andrew Rudansky said. The department has “taken the Comptroller’s input seriously” and fired two contractors identified in the original audit, he said.

Safety activists have been calling on the state to impose government-regulated training for mechanics who work on the more-than 70,000 passenger elevators in the state.

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