By Lauren Johnson
As experts continued their investigation into the cause of a freak elevator accident that killed a Madison Avenue office worker last week, the city’s Buildings Department was reassuring a nervous workforce of its safety.
According to DOB spokesman Anthony Sclafani, fatal elevator accidents are rare in New York — 2008 was the last time anyone was killed — and engineers and city officials continually work to improve elevator safety.
“The Department of Buildings wants to ensure your safety every time you travel in an elevator, escalator or moving walkway,” said the DOB, noting that elevators have several safety features designed to engage should any malfunction happen.
The DOB monitors 60,000 elevators in buildings throughout New York City and requires elevator cars, pits, motor rooms, and hoist ways to be inspected and tested at least five times every two years. Normally, the Department performs three of the required inspections, and the building owner has to hire a licensed elevator inspector to do the remaining two.
According to the DOB website, the 13 elevators that operate at 285 Madison Avenue had received 56 violations since 2000. It was last inspected in June 2011, where it received an administrative violation for paperwork deficiencies. Sclafani said there were no indications of any safety concerns at that time.
Last Wednesday morning, engineers from Transel Elevator Inc, a Manhattan-based elevator maintenance company, were performing electrical work on elevators at 285 Madison when advertising executive Suzanne Hart was killed after stepping into the elevator from the building’s lobby.
Sclafani said the work being performed that day had become the focus of the department’s on-going investigation. “Right now our inspectors and engineers are working on investigating the cause of the accident,” he said. “As part [of the investigation] we are going to review Transel’s maintenance, their clients and our inspectors plan on conducting a sweep of the elevators.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Transel’s website listed several prestigious clients, including Carnegie Hall and Yankee Stadium; that information has since been removed from the site. The company did not respond to requests for comment.
Hart worked at Y&R, formerly known as Young & Rubicam Group, a division of the WPP Group, the global advertising, media and communications company that has owned the 25-story office building at 285 Madison Avenue since 1926.
Several weeks before the elevator accident, the company signed a 340,000 s/f lease at the redeveloped Three Columbus Circle where it would serve as the anchor tenant of the 26-story building owned in partnership by SL Green Realty and the Moinian Organization.
Under the agreement, Y&R plans to lease a portion of the 26-story building — 214,760 s/f on floors 9, 10, 18 and 19 — and buy and addition 124,760 s/f condo interest on floors three through eight.
Steven Durels, executive vice president and director of leasing at SL Green, said the 785,565 s/f building has undergone several major upgrades that included new elevator cabs as well as the installation of an emergency generator, a new lobby and tenant controlled HVAC.
“After undergoing a full scale redevelopment, 3 Columbus Circle is now a premier Manhattan corporate address featuring great retail, access to transportation, and prime office space with Central Park views,” said Mark Holliday, CEO of SL Green, said in a statement.
WPP declined to comment on it’s plans for 285 Madison. A spokesman said the building would remain closed, at least through Jan. 3, 2012.
Manhattan Borough Preisdent Scott Stringer, meanwhile, questioned the city’s elevator inspection policies saying, “We should also re-examine the consequences of unsatisfactory inspections to insure that a failed inspection cannot be ignored; strong and hefty fines for repeat offenders must be enforced to the maximum extent of the law.
“The city must put in place every mitigation possible to ensure that a tragedy like this is prevented in the future.”