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Construction & Design

The ups and down of developing elevator safety codes

Effective January 1, 2020 all automatic passenger and freight elevators must have a Door Lock Monitoring system installed. Such a system is intended to ensure an elevator does not move with its doors open.

By Karen Penafiel, executive director, National Elevator Industry, Inc.

Most property professionals have some familiarity with building and elevator codes but may not know the full picture.

Like the tired cliché, the code development process is a little like making sausage — many don’t know or, perhaps worse, don’t care to know what goes into the creation of the model codes or understand how truly important they are to occupant health and safety.

But, the truth is that they really should. What goes into it is a lot of time from many stakeholders and days — no, months — of meetings.

What results from that process is a model code that helps protect the health and safety of workers and the public while keeping pace with the speed of innovation.

While there is a general understanding of how codes ensure “safety” and “innovation,” many don’t grasp just how significantly the things many of us take for granted are dictated by codes.

We all know that codes define product specifications for elevator ropes, brakes, etc. But, they also go far beyond safety basics.

For example, they also dictate how long the door stays open, how quickly or slowly it may close, what features must be included to assist people with differing abilities, and more.

About the only things the codes don’t cover are what kind of elevator music to play and whether or not to bypass the 13th floor.

After working in the advocacy and codes arena for 26 years — first at the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International and now with the National Elevator Industry, Inc. (NEII) for the last three and a half years — I am well-versed on the impact of an effective code development process and have a deep appreciation for the staff time and volunteer expertise that goes into monitoring, developing, updating, and implementing model codes.

Elevator codes are published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Like the building codes developed by the International Code Council (ICC), the ASME model codes follow a three-year development cycle. NEII represents elevator manufacturers, installers, and contractors. But, we’re just one of many stakeholders that participates in the process.

Our small association of six full-time staffers has one senior employee exclusively dedicated to the safety codes, in addition to several consultants who add expertise. Our member companies each have several employees dedicated to the process. Altogether, it demands quite a bit of staff time and company budgets.

In addition to the elevator manufacturers, many other interests are represented, including elevator consultants, elevator mechanics and the union that represents them, building owners, inspectors, state building departments, state fire marshals, and the general public.

You get the picture: it’s a myriad of voices all adding their expertise to ensure the final product achieves its intended result of safer and more effective products.

Once the model codes are developed and published, it is then the responsibility of each state, county or authority having jurisdiction to adopt the codes.

Some do this automatically, while others are years behind. Some adopt the code in its entirety without deviation, while others amend it to take into consideration geographic differences such as earthquakes or flooding.

As you can imagine, this part of the process has the potential to create a patchwork quilt of codes across the U.S. and Canada.

So why is staying involved in the code development, adoption and implementation process so important for every stakeholder?

For NEII and the elevator industry, it’s pretty obvious. Our industry is all about safety and innovation. The elevator of today is much different than that of a few decades ago and will be much different from the elevators of the future; the codes need to recognize and represent this.

Safer products are being engineered constantly and they must be allowed by code. Moreover, the code process should not stifle innovation.

On the contrary, it is the responsibility of the code to account for the substantial innovation that inevitably occurs within every three-year cycle of code development, which is why NEII adamantly supports performance-based codes.

It’s also about producing affordable products. It’s easier and cheaper for a manufacturer — of any product — to build the same product for California as it is for Florida without having to make deviations that don’t enhance safety.

We want the real estate industry (our customers) to have an array of safe and affordable options to choose from to meet the needs of their brand and tenant base.

This process is also important for building owners and property professionals. As the purchasers of our equipment, you have a valuable voice. What is most important to you? Surely safety, serviceability and life cycle cost are driving forces.

The codes development process — and in particular what is permitted in the code and what isn’t — deeply impacts the choices you will have. Do you have a seat at the table?

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