Rescinded elevator-safety order sparks anger, raises credibility issues

TORONTO — A decision by one of Canada’s key elevator-safety authorities to rescind a sweeping three-year-old upgrade directive has sparked both surprise and anger among those in the industry.

The decision by Ontario’s Technical Standards and Safety Authority, they say, was done without consultation, raises questions about the basis for the far-reaching order in the first-place, and leaves the public at substantial risk.

“Should I be advising my building owners to act right away on future director’s orders?” Doug Guderian, the CEO of contractor Elevator One, said on Wednesday. “Maybe you want to wait a few years and see if they rescind this one, too? That doesn’t help the industry in any way to be safer.”

At issue are older “single speed” elevators typically found in lower-rise buildings and which are notorious for posing a tripping or fall hazard by routinely failing to stop level with the floor — sometimes by as much as seven centimetres, a far cry from current accuracy norms of less than a centimetre.

In 2014, the safety authority ordered significant upgrades to every single-speed elevator in Ontario — estimates say there are about 700 to 1,200 of them — and gave owners until the end of 2021 to do so. Data, the authority said at the time, indicated a substantial safety risk related to levelling that was only expected to worsen.

This week, however, TSSA director Roger Neate decided the mandatory upgrade — already carried out in about 55 instances — was no longer necessary.

“TSSA has continued to monitor and review incident, maintenance and inspection order data,” Neate said in the new order. “The outcome is that the data trends do not support the mandatory upgrade of single-speed elevator-motion controls.”

At the same time, the authority said it was mandating risk-mitigating measures, among them maintenance tasks to be done every two months and an annual requirement to take apart, examine and maintain the elevator’s brake components.

The TSSA also recommends measures such as posting signs warning users of the tripping risk, something those in the industry worry amounts to an admission of risk and liability.

Industry consultant Rob Isabelle said the director’s surprise decision raises questions about the data the safety authority relied on then and relied on now.

“How good was your analysis in the first place?” Isabelle said. “If I was the guy that has three small buildings and spent $500,000 and now I receive this order saying it’s not really necessary, I’d be pissed.”

In response Wednesday, the authority said single speed elevators were safe and that its updated data shows they do not pose an “unacceptable risk” to users. The authority also said it had told its advisory committee it was contemplating the change.

The TSSA did float the idea of rescinding the order at an industry “townhall” meeting last November, but that was followed by silence, Guderian said.

“We raised probably 15 or 20 different objections and reasons why we didn’t feel rescinding an order like this was a good idea,” Guderian said. “They didn’t answer why to a single one of them.”

The issue comes amid data showing that serious elevator-related injuries in Ontario have been rising at a rate of about eight per cent a year for the past five years. Additionally, a Canadian Press investigation indicated elevator-reliability problems had reached crisis proportions across Canada, prompting the Ontario government to promise legislation to deal with the “systemic” availability issue.

Earlier this month, the safety authority awarded consulting firm Deloitte a $300,000 contract to carry out potentially groundbreaking research that aims to get at the causes of elevator outages or otherwise poor service and offer solutions.

The government-ordered review is being fronted by retired Superior Court justice Douglas Cunningham, who is expected to report in the fall.

Cunningham previously reviewed the Ontario’s New Home Warranties Act and his findings prompted the province earlier this year to introduce measures aimed at boosting consumer confidence in the new-home industry.

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