Elevator companies have been under major scrutiny for too many breakdowns, accidents, and delayed repairs. As a result, Ontario Liberal MPP Han Dong proposed the Reliable Elevators Act. The private members Bill recommends holding the elevator contractor responsible for fixing outages in a maximum of 14 days; 7 days for long-term care and retirement facilities. Additionally, the Bill exposes elevator maintenance contracts to the protections under the Consumer Protection Act, thereby leaving contractors vulnerable to potential fines and reputational damage. As well, as part of the process of moving the bill forward, the Ontario government directed the province’s safety regulator to commission a review of the elevator reliability issue. Led by retired justice Douglas Cunningham, the Deloitte study for the Technical Standards and Safety Authority has yet to be finalized.
While Dong proposed the bill with good intentions, to protect the health and safety of building residents, professionals within the elevator industry argue the Reliable Elevators Act lacks an understanding of how the industry actually works.
In mid-October, the elevator industry released their own. The report, Reliable Elevators – How Ontario Can Become a National Leader for Transportation Systems in Buildings, includes a suite of recommendations to increase reliability and availability, without compromising safety to mechanics and the public. “There is a fundamental misunderstanding in Ontario regarding elevator reliability and availability, and the root cause of any downtime,” the report states. “Specific isolated instances of elevator problems have created a misperception of widespread elevator outages and unresponsive service companies that are both inaccurate and irresponsible.”
The National Elevator and Escalator Association suggest that many of the problems occur due to a number of factors beyond a contractor’s control.
Specialized elevator parts aren’t always readily available, meaning contractors must wait for international orders to come through or go through the extra steps to have them custom made. Parts for older elevators may also be obsolete altogether, as is the case with many single-speed elevators throughout the province.
Building owners who fail to pay contractors: The proposed Bill 109 states: “The contractor responsible for maintaining an elevator that becomes unavailable for use because it needs repair shall ensure that the elevator is repaired.” The bill does not define what “contractor responsible” entails. With most elevator contracts, some or all causes of breakdowns are not included in the contract and the building owner must pay extra for these situations. Who then is responsible if the owner has not authorized or paid for the repair? As currently written, the bill does nothing to alleviate the situation; in fact, it just confuses it more.
Building owners who fail to budget and invest the money in upgrading their elevators soon enough results in the elevators becoming more unreliable and taking longer to repair as they age.
Causes such as flooding, where a 2-week turnaround is just not possible since a substantial portion of each elevator must be replaced or rebuilt to satisfy TSSA’s safety requirements.
Brownouts and computer system failures on newer models.
When you take into account all these factors, it is apparent that the reasons behind a broken elevator are more complex than what Bill 109 appears to consider. Many contractors feel the Reliable Elevators Act could end up causing more harm than good. Not only could it impose huge costs on building owners that could result in tenants being priced out of their own homes, but it could also lead to increased safety issues due to potential rushed repair jobs in order to meet the strict time limits.
“NEEA members strongly support the goals of safe and reliable elevators. The Reliable Elevators Act, as written, does not ensure safer or more reliable elevators and does not establish a pathway to reducing the time elevators might be out of service,” said Kelly Leitch, President of the National Elevator and Escalator Association. “Instead, it will price residents and other tenants out of their buildings, increase safety risks, and decrease competition in the market. It is vital that reforms to the elevator industry be focused on evidence-based decision making, not political motivations that directly contradict clear statistical data and create unintended consequences for all Ontarians.”
NEEA has undertaken extensive research and consultations to determine the true extent of the problem and root causes of elevator outages in Ontario, as well as potential solutions for both new and existing buildings. It has also examined external factors, such as power grid brownouts and failures, which are responsible for a significant portion of service calls.
“First, we must ensure that there is an adequate number of elevators installed in new buildings. Canada currently has no standard or guidelines for aligning building transportation systems with the anticipated occupancy and use of the building. NEEA supports the development of a standard. We must also look at existing buildings. Single-speed elevators and elevators that are well past their useful service life are the ones causing recurring maintenance and safety concerns in Ontario,” said Leitch. “The government and regulators must work with building owners and industry to eliminate outdated technology, such as single-speed elevators, from the province. We also know that power failures and brownouts are a leading cause of outages and entrapments. We look forward to working with government and other stakeholders in the province to address these problems and recommendations to ensure that Ontario’s elevators continue to be safe and reliable.” Han Dong has stated he’s open to discussing the Bill further. He said, “I want to send out a message to independent contractors, especially those that are taking their job seriously and doing their best to ensure the reliability of the elevators they look after. I want them to understand that this is a great opportunity for them to share best practices, to bring the industry to a unified standard so customers, ultimately, will benefit.”
The elevator industry must wait to know its fate while the Bill is assessed by the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills. In the meantime, as one industry expert said, the answer to keeping elevators running is really quite simple. Keep your elevators maintained and upgrade them if they’re getting old.