Elevators and escalators are some of the most paradoxical building attributes. They are vital to moving masses of humans each day, and are so common as to feel like a mundane technological marvel. However, they are also some of the most egregious violators of safety codes of any building components. Because of their common-ness, the burden of inspecting and/or sanctioning buildings with out-of-code elevators and escalators is too large for most municipalities, and often ends up neglected, leaving the general public at risk. This is all the more egregious considering that elevators are a vital accessibility resource for marginalized populations such as wheelchair users and the elderly. The method of requiring a publically-available certificate of recent inspection for elevators in many commercially-zoned buildings has not done enough to combat the widespread issue. Some elevators are not up-to-date with inspections, some have been inspected and found to be out-of-code, but resources are not available to ensure that follow-up visits get conducted and that the violations were fixed, and some elevator operators have been found to be in flagrant violation deserving of sanctions but the resources are not available to ensure that this happens. Regardless of the sad state of the field, it truly is in a building manager’s best interest to get their elevators and escalators inspected on schedule by a certified professional contractor. This is because both contain high-risk components: elevator shafts are many stories tall, and malfunctions can quickly turn dangerous due to the large heights involved, and escalators are notorious for their design including exposed machinery with interlocking teeth that have been responsible for deaths and injuries. Thus, the liability surrounding these components is high, and a certified inspector will possess the proper insurance for the job and can transfer liability away from the building owner. Of course, by complying with regular inspection and maintenance ordinances, the chances of a malfunction are also drastically reduced, which is the ideal case.
The requirements for testing conditions and frequency of elevators and escalators vary with the region and use type. Utility elevators intended to haul equipment and materials will have a different code than those for human riders, including maximum rated weight capacity. Similarly, escalators which are expected to operate 24-hours-a-day and carry many passengers, such as those present in the subway systems of many cities, will need to be checked for wear more frequently than escalators which carry fewer passengers and are equipped with sensors to turn them on only when needed. A component of escalator testing that can be surprisingly important is signage. Because there are some proper user procedures necessary for safe escalator use, like riding on the stairs and not the handrails, and tucking in any hanging shoelaces, the presence and legibility of public-facing signage can also play a key role in safety.
While the state of elevator and escalator inspections is currently grim, your building or company can make a difference. The reduced liability and increased public safety of a property inspected and maintained elevator or escalator is well worth the cost of seeking out these services, whether through public or private monitoring agencies.