Ontario is looking to boost elevator availability in multi-storey residential buildings, as well as long-term care and seniors’ homes. In what would be a global first, the provincial government plans to establish a data-based standard for the time it takes to turn around elevator repairs.
This measure forms part of an action plan that comes in response to a study commissioned by the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) at the request of the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. The study, produced with support from Deloitte’s public sector strategy team, occurred as concerns surrounding elevator availability mounted.
In his final report, study lead Justice J. Douglas Cunningham found that the current state of elevator availability falls far short of ideal. He made 19 recommendations for improving the status quo, including looking into requiring more frequent upkeep for high-risk devices and stepping up the enforcement of existing maintenance standards with new fines.
Minister of Government and Consumer Services Tracy MacCharles said the government will be addressing all of the recommendations contained in Justice Cunningham’s report as she announced the action plan last week at a downtown press conference.
“Our government has growing concerns about seniors and people with disabilities and other mobility issues being unable to get in or out of their condos, apartments, long-term care facility or retirement homes because of unreliable elevators,” she said. “The changes we are proposing would reduce elevator breakdowns by developing new preventive maintenance requirements and expanding enforcement tools.”
Min. MacCharles said the government will introduce legislation soon as it moves to roll out its action plan in stages. If passed, proposed changes would pave the way for measures including the collection and sharing of data on elevator availability, which is currently sparse.
A survey conducted as part of the study found responding condos to have an average elevator availability of 93 per cent, the lowest of all the institutional and residential building types reached and short of the industry target for up-time of 98 per cent. Justice Cunningham’s report calls for a public database showing elevator up-time by address to be created using information volunteered by contractors.
In a separate recommendation, he suggested requiring contractors to report service outages that last longer than two days to a regulator and develop plans for bringing elevators back online spelling out the respective responsibilities of the contractor and the owner. This approach marks a departure from the two-week deadline for repairing elevators proposed in a private member’s bill put forward by Liberal MPP Han Dong last winter. Dong, who was on hand at the press conference last week, welcomed the move to advance his efforts to improve the reliability of elevators.
“I’m glad to see that my private members’ bill was an inspiration for the government to take action and that proposed changes are coming,” he said in a press release accompanying the announcement. “The action plan addresses the concerns voiced by those living in our vertical communities.”
In addition to proposing a deadline for repairing elevators, Dong’s private member’s bill proposed requiring elevator traffic studies for developments of seven or more storeys to ensure new buildings are equipped with enough elevators to adequately serve residents. Currently, the only minimum for providing elevators is found in the fire code, which requires residential buildings of six or more storeys to be equipped with at least one elevator for firefighter use. The action plan aims to establish standards for conducting elevator traffic studies and minimums for providing elevators in new buildings of six or more storeys in the building code over the next three years.
Stepped up enforcement of existing maintenance requirements is expected to come sooner, with implementation slated for 2019. Specifics such as the size of the fines, which Justice Cunningham suggested could potentially be meted out to both elevator contractor and owner, are slated to be hammered out in regulations in the fall, following consultations with stakeholders.
Min. MacCharles said the government will also be asking the TSSA to review the prescribed schedule for elevator maintenance with an eye toward increasing its frequency. The prescribed schedule for elevator maintenance was relaxed four years ago from a minimum frequency of monthly to quarterly.
“Compliance with minimum maintenance standards for safety, shown to signal more effective preventive maintenance practices, is at an all-time low,” Justice Cunningham wrote in his report.
In addition to new fines, he recommended raising owner awareness around preventive maintenance, which he said data analysis and stakeholders indicated plays a major role in elevator availability. His report also calls for education for building owners to equip them with the knowledge to secure improved service through their maintenance contracts.
Justice Cunningham also flagged the availability of elevating device mechanics for attention, noting a perception among some building owners that a labour shortage might be contributing to slow repair times. He suggested giving Class T mechanics-in-training a deadline for taking the steps to become Class A mechanics, which are increasingly in demand amid booming high-rise construction. Min. MacCharles said the government plans to examine the labour market in consultation with industry this year.
Also in line for implementation this year are measures to improve access to elevators for first responders. Justice Cunningham proposed that when firefighter elevators break down, outages lasting longer than a day trigger an obligation that would be added to the fire code for owners to alert their fire department, occupants and supervisory staff.
The development of a standard for the time it takes to repair elevators is expected to carry into 2019, which is also when the government aims to assign regulatory responsibility for elevator availability. The TSSA appears to be a likely candidate for the job based on Justice Cunningham’s assessment, but he said further analysis was needed, citing concerns raised by the Technical Standards and Safety Authority that this responsibility could conflict with its existing mandate.
“If safety is assumed to take priority over availability in all circumstances, this should not be an insurmountable problem,” he wrote, adding, “It should be noted that there is no empirical evidence that a lack of availability poses a safety risk, when compared with other potential risks monitored by the TSSA.
“Technical elevator safety is well regulated and managed in Ontario.”
Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.