“There’s a couple of things about safety I brought to Neil Hussey, Chairman of the Elevator Contractors of America, when I became the General President– we need to get more involved with safety, we need to get the companies more involved with safety and we need to go at it with a different approach because whatever we were doing before that wasn’t working. So we did this together,” said Frank Christensen, General President of the International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC).

ElevatorInfo had the opportunity to sit down with Frank and Neil to talk about how the IUEC has been working collaboratively with the ECA to improve safety for all workers in the conveyance industry. Creating a culture of safety that allows all elevator constructors to get home safe to their families at the end of the day has been a top priority for President Christensen since the start of his tenure. “It never is going to be enough for me until we don’t have any fatalities. Never. No injuries is probably a dream or fantasy. But that’s my goal as long as I’m going to be the general president.”

While the bulk of the work in the North American conveyance industry is done by a handful of major corporations such as Otis, Kone, Schindler, TK Elevator, Fujitech, and Mitsubishi Elevator, there are hundreds of smaller independent elevator companies across the country that are also involved in this work. The Elevator Contractors of America organization was created to provide a network of support for these independent elevator companies. Lately, one of the top priorities for the ECA has been to develop a standard safety policy that ECA member companies can adopt as part of their own corporate safety policies for workers.

“We know that the majors are getting their hard hats, are getting their safety glasses, they’re getting their harnesses,” said Frank. This is largely because the major IUEC-affiliated companies have access to teams of safety experts around the globe, and have had comprehensive safety strategies in place for some time. Unfortunately, it’s been more of a challenge for some of the smaller companies who don’t have access to the resources the larger ones do to develop and implement comprehensive safety programs as quickly.

In recent years, it became apparent that this was an area where the ECA could be a great help to its member companies and to the industry as a whole. “Originally we had a lot of small companies that really didn’t have much of a safety program,” said Neil. “The mindset back in our day was if you spend a lot of time on safety, it was going to slow things down – but we found that quite to the contrary.” He continued, “Once we saw that, not only could you create a very safe work environment, some of the safety procedures and protocols actually ended up being very efficient.”

Maintaining strong communication and a positive working relationship with the IUEC has helped ensure that the ECA’s standard safety policy meets the needs of the industry. “I like to think that we’re partners with the IUEC in the promotion of safety,” said Neil. “The IUEC is our main supplier of labor and what we found very early on is that by including them in our general meetings, by spending time developing relationships, it all makes it easier,” said Neil.

Frank agreed. “When I became the General President, we got to know each other. We talked and he invited me to ECA meetings and after that, we built a friendship and an understanding of what each one does. I know that I can pick up the phone and call Neil anytime and he’s going to respond to me immediately, and he knows he could do the same for me.”

“We’re elevator people. We have a long history in the elevator business – although I might have started a little bit earlier than Frank, we started in the same place, as helpers in the trade,” Neil said. “We have a lot of things in common and we’ve been able to use that to our benefit, to further our goals – safety being one of the major goals.”

Making safety a top priority is more than just a goal for Neil – as Vice President of an independent elevator company himself (New England-based Stanley Elevator), it’s personal. Frank was quick to recognize this. “Some of his employees are like his family members – these are his friends. These are more than just employees. If something were to happen to them, the effect of that on their family and everyone that they know, well, it’s a hard thing to live with. I know because it’s a hard thing for me to live with when I lose a member.”

Frank continued, “When I see an elevator constructor on the street or I see them working on their equipment, I always ask ‘Are you working safe?’ For me, that’s one of the most important things I could say to somebody.”

Safety training is one of the best benefits all elevator constructor mechanics and apprentices get from the IUEC, its collaborators and union-affiliated employers, and NEIEP. To learn more, head over to our article on the fundamentals of safety for elevator technicians/constructors.

All across the country, skilled elevator apprentices and mechanics from the International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC) build and maintain the conveyance systems for the nation’s fastest-growing clean power energy sector. Installing, servicing, repairing, modernizing, and inspecting the elevators that transport wind turbine workers from the base of the wind tower to the turbine at the top is a natural fit for IUEC elevator constructors, who have extensive experience in this area – they’ve been working safely at heights and in challenging environmental conditions for more than 150 years.

Today, the elevator industry’s experienced and highly-trained mechanics take care of the conveyance systems in the offshore towers at Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island, land-based Tempest Group wind power projects in Texas, Missouri, California, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, and other wind farms all over the United States.

A recent collaboration between the IUEC and Survival Systems USA in Groton, CT, brought Global Wind Organization (GWO) Basic Training to elevator constructor apprentices and mechanics to ensure they have the specialized skills required to safely perform this work. The Survival Systems GWO certification program includes the following courses:

  • GWO BST-1005 Basic Safety Training
  • GWO BST-WAH-1002 Work at Height
  • GWO BST-MH-102 Manual Handling
  • GWO BST-FA-2002 Medic First Aid + Trauma
  • GWO BST-FA-101 Fire Awareness
  • GWO-SS GWO Sea Survival
  • GWO-EFA Enhanced First Aid
  • GWO-ART Advanced Rescue Training

ElevatorInfo visited Survival Systems to tour their training campus and learn more about how their GWO training prepares elevator constructor apprentices and mechanics to work on the conveyance systems inside wind towers. “We don’t teach you how to do your job – Survival Systems teaches you how to do your job safely,” explained Maria Hannah, the company’s President & CEO. “You’re the expert in your job. We are here to make sure you understand the tools at your disposal and come home safe at the end of the day.”

Maria emphasized that in order for workers to be comfortable and confident putting their safety training skills to use during high-stress, dangerous scenarios, it’s important they have an opportunity to practice using them in a similar situation. “If you’re actually doing hands-on work in the industry, the best form of training and education that somebody can give you is to send you to a course that forces you to do the same hands-on things you do during the workday,” she said.

So that students get the most out of their training, Survival Systems employs a combination of hands-on and classroom-based learning. “Most of our courses here at Survival Systems start with some form of classroom,” said Keith Wille, a Development Manager for Survival Systems. “From the classroom, they’ll take a break and then they’ll transition to the 28-foot climbing tower outside.”

When ElevatorInfo observed a safety training session in action, Jackson DeSimone, a Survival Systems instructor, was working with a group of IUEC elevator constructors on that climbing tower. “Basically, what we’re trying to simulate is any kind of working-at-heights emergency where you have a partner and they get stuck on the ladder – they want to come down but they maybe can’t help themselves – you need to know how to get both of you down safely,” he told us. This is a vital skill for anyone who works at heights to have.

Dallas Nunes, a member of IUEC Local 39 in Rhode Island, was a participant in the training. There are a growing number of wind industry projects in and around Local 39’s jurisdiction, and while NEIEP’s elevator constructor apprenticeship training gives him the foundational skills he will need to install, service, maintain, and repair wind turbine elevators, Survival Skills’ GWO Basic Skills training will thoroughly prepare him with the safety skills needed to do the specialized work required by the wind industry. “This job is pretty dangerous. Working safe is definitely our number one priority,” he said. “After doing a week of training, I feel confident I know how to rescue someone.”

Maria Hannah talked about how Survival Skills must stay on top of advances in wind industry technology so that training can be continually adapted and improved to meet emerging needs in the field. “The courses have evolved and now we’re showing you new equipment, new procedures – the concepts haven’t changed, but the equipment and the way you apply them have changed,” said Maria. She encouraged any elevator constructor interested in working in the wind industry to take advantage of the collaboration between the IUEC and Survival Skills and come down to the facility in Connecticut to participate in the courses they offer. “You will have a good time here in training. It will not be boring. You’ll learn a lot.”

This week, staff from the IUEC and the Elevator Industry Work Preservation Fund (EIWPF) are exhibiting at the American Clean Power Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. They will also be at American Clean Power’s Offshore Windpower Conference at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Massachusetts on October 3-4, and other wind industry conferences in the future.

Are you an owner, operator, or contractor in the wind industry? If so, you know how important it is to have experienced, highly-skilled mechanics taking care of your equipment. Don’t jeopardize your investment by allowing inexperienced workers to install, service, maintain, or repair your wind tower elevators and conveyance systems. Contact ElevatorInfo to be connected with an IUEC-affiliated company.

Elevator Modernization
Elevator Modernization

An image from a street-level perspective looking up at Chicago’s Willis Tower and other tall buildings.

The number of elevators in use in the United States, Canada, and the rest of the world has been growing steadily in recent years, and advancements in elevator modernization have seen similar progress. Given that tens of millions of people ride elevators every day, ensuring that the traveling public is safe while riding is critically important.

As new technologies emerge, elevator safety requirements are changing to keep pace with these advancements. Ensuring elevators are modernized to keep the riding public safe is an important task undertaken by the elevator constructors who build, maintain, service, modernize, and inspect conveyance systems across the country.

To find out more about this important job, let’s take a closer look at the reasons why elevators must be modernized, how to know it is time to call the professionals to upgrade elements in an elevator’s system, and how these modernizations are carried out.

Safety First

Under no circumstances should a building owner, general maintenance worker, or anyone without the appropriate training and experience ever attempt to fix an issue with the elevator in their building, at their place of work, or anywhere else. If an elevator user recognizes that an elevator is broken, damaged, or malfunctioning, they should speak to the building manager, who should in turn contact the professionals. This point can’t be understated, as the safety of the riding public is paramount.

Elevator construction and maintenance work is heavy-duty manual labor that requires years of elevator training courses and on-the-job experience under the supervision of qualified, trained professionals. The reason that this professional training must be so rigorous is that faulty or outdated elevators can be extremely dangerous for the people who ride or work on them.

Let’s look at some common factors that necessitate a system upgrade or other form of elevator modernization.

When and Why Elevators Must Be Modernized

Given the complex electronic and mechanical components that make up an elevator’s system, regular maintenance is extremely important. But even elevators that are regularly maintained are likely to require modernization at some point – especially if they are more than 20 years old. Many things can happen that may warrant modernization, but generally speaking, they fall into seven different categories.

Here are some reasons your building’s elevator system may need an upgrade:

Unreliable Service

If an elevator can’t be relied on to transport people quickly, reliably, and safely to their chosen floor, and the elevator is up to date with its recommended routine and preventative maintenance schedule, some sort of elevator upgrades will be required.

Frequent Shutdowns or Entrapments

If an elevator regularly shuts down, or the traveling public is often stuck inside the elevator, some form of modernization is needed.

Code Violations that Have Been Cited by an Inspector

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), along with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA/NEC) writes the code for elevator safety in the United States. If an elevator inspector identifies any violations of the ASME or other code standards adopted in that jurisdiction, the elevator must be modernized in one way or another.

Excessive Wear

If an elevator is visibly worn, outdated, or shoddy, modernization work is needed.

Inability to Acquire Replacement Parts

If an elevator in need of maintenance cannot be fixed due to a lack of available or affordable replacement parts, the elevator’s system or some elements of it must be modernized.

Excessive Energy Consumption

Often, older elevators need to be modernized to meet certain energy efficiency standards. This is becoming more common as the industry moves toward becoming more green.

In essence, an elevator needs to be modernized any time it isn’t keeping up with the needs of the building. If potential safety issues aren’t addressed, there is a real risk of endangering the people who use these conveyances as a mode of transport. But what’s actually involved in elevator modernization? Let’s take a look at the steps involved.

What Does Elevator Modernization Actually Involve?

Elevator Modernization

An image showing a controller during an elevator modernization project.

Elevators must be modernized and kept up to code standards to guarantee the safety of their end users – the riding public. When any of the reasons for modernization described above come into play, building managers, owners, or other relevant authorities must take steps to ensure this safety.

When an elevator is found to be out of compliance with local, regional, or national code regulations, an inspector can “red tag” the elevator. This means that the elevator may not be used, and a building manager or owner could find themselves in legal trouble should they disobey this order. They could even lose their ability to hold occupancy of the building due to an unsafe elevator.

Rarely will a building require a completely new unit or model; changing and upgrading elevator components is typically what’s required. Whenever there is an upgrade, the elevator must be brought up to code. Ultimately, the degree to which a unit must be brought up to code will be decided by the relevant jurisdictional authorities in accordance with the particular set of code standards adopted in that jurisdiction.

Because of the inherent risk that can be involved in riding elevators, the elevator industry takes a strict, no-nonsense approach to safety regulations and standards.

Learn More About the Elevator Industry

The elevator industry boasts tens of thousands of brothers and sisters throughout North America who dedicate their professional lives to ensuring the safety of every person who sets foot on an elevator. The International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC) represents the most qualified and trained elevator workers in the world, trained by the National Elevator Industry Educational Program (NEIEP).

For more information about elevator modernization and the elevator industry as a whole, be sure to check out our other articles.