By Charlie Slater
From the August 2019 Issue
What happens to a car if it’s not taken care of on a regular basis? It starts to break down, its performance deteriorates, and it eventually stops working, forcing costly repairs or even leaving someone stranded. Cars are an expensive asset, and to many people it is a necessary tool. As such, people inspect and maintain their cars regularly to protect these assets. In facilities, elevators and escalators are not very different in terms of their importance. Elevators in many cases are required by federal and local law, and escalators are necessary to manage high traffic in buildings. These vertical transportation assets are critical to keeping business moving and occupants satisfied.
Elevators and escalators wear out over time, just like cars do. Elevator maintenance is something that most building owners pay for but can be overlooked at times. With elevators, as long as everything looks good inside the box, people don’t often worry about what’s going on outside the box. Without regular maintenance, however, this equipment starts to develop gaps and wear points that could lead to, at the very least, costly repairs, down time, and even incidents or injuries.
No Time For Downtime
Building owners spend a lot of money on elevator maintenance, and elevators play a critical role in moving people within their buildings, so how do they know they’re getting the maintenance they’re paying for? They understand that preventive maintenance reduces downtime for repairs and prolongs equipment life. It’s actually required by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ A17.1 Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators for maintenance companies to develop a Maintenance Control Program (MCP) for elevators. As part of this program, they should perform preventive maintenance on a regular basis. In order to ensure they are visiting elevators regularly, it’s best to create a system where the maintenance company is required to check in and check out each visit.
But, for facility management or the building owner, it’s difficult to know whether the maintenance company’s Maintenance Control Plan is sufficient. Everything looks good inside the box!
How often elevators are used relates to how often certain maintenance tasks will need to be performed. The more often a car is driven, the more often it will need an oil change. That’s where elevator inspections come in, as required by the jurisdiction to ensure elevators are being maintained to local code and safety standards. Inspections will identify deficiencies that are related to lack of maintenance and can help to prevent downtime and to prolong equipment life.
When it comes to escalators, there is a rarely enforced requirement that a trained building representative, such as someone from facility management, must complete a startup checklist daily or every time the escalator is turned on to ensure the unit is in safe operational condition. The building’s elevator maintenance company or inspection company can provide guidance on what should be performed during this check and can even offer training if needed. The building owner or facility management staff should do this to verify each escalator is safe and in good working order. If issues are found, these should be brought to the attention of the elevator maintenance company.
Also, once a year, a clean down should be performed on each escalator. Clean downs ensure all parts are free of debris, properly lubricated and adjusted, which helps prevent shutdowns and damage to the equipment. Annual escalator clean downs used to be standard industry practice but are no longer included in many maintenance agreements. The process of a clean down is lengthy due to most, if not all, of the escalator steps needing to be removed, and it could take two or more days to complete. Buildings are often concerned about shutting down escalators, and mechanics struggle with making the time for such work.
In order to remain compliant, elevator inspections need to be done annually per most jurisdictional requirements. On the other hand, code recommends performing an inspection once every six months, with testing only being required annually.
Inspections identify code violations, one of which could be a lack of testing if a certificate is overdue.
Testing is when the unit is put through a simulated emergency condition to ensure safety equipment, such as safety brakes, are operating to code. Testing is crucial to guarantee equipment is exercised and adjusted to work properly when its needed during an emergency.
Some buildings that have had trouble passing elevator inspections in the past may have inspections performed every six months to make sure the elevators are properly maintained all year long. Not only does this help to prevent serious code issues from developing over 12 months of use, but it helps to ensure a building owner is receiving the maintenance they are paying for.
It is the same with escalators. Inspections are typically only required annually, but once every six months is recommended by code.
Ask The Right Questions
Sometimes it’s hard to know what questions to ask during an inspection. If an inspector notes violations on their report, these questions can help a building owner or facility management know what steps to take:
- Are the violations the owner’s responsibility to correct or the elevator maintenance company’s?
- What led to this violation in the inspector’s opinion? Was it wear and tear? Was it a lack of preventive maintenance by the company? Was it vandalism or misuse?
- Is it a violation that can be remedied by more regular maintenance?
- What is the code reference number for the violation, and what does the code requirement state?
Picking the right inspector is key. They should know the local elevator and escalator codes for the jurisdiction. If they are being brought from outside the area and do not work locally, often they could misapply the requirements.
The inspector should also know the equipment they are inspecting. They are required to be up to date on new equipment in the industry and shouldn’t be surprised or unfamiliar with what they are looking at.
Always keep in mind that the elevator maintenance company, while aware of and concerned with code compliance and safety, doesn’t focus on that. They focus on keeping the elevator running and their customers happy. The inspector is the one who works to ensure equipment is code compliant and safe. Scheduling regular inspections and asking the right questions will keep elevators and escalators safe and functional.
Slater is the director of field operations for ATIS Elevator Inspections, where he oversees Qualified Elevator Inspectors (QEI) across the U.S. He serves as a member on multiple ASME A17 Code Development Committees and provides education for QEIs and mechanics nationally through NAESA International, an Accredited QEI Certifying Organization. Founded in 2013 and based in St. Louis, MO, American Testing and Inspection Services (ATIS) is a national testing, inspection, and certification company, providing third-party safety inspection and test witnessing services for elevators, escalators, moving walks, and other conveyance.
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