The critical issue of lift maintenance impacts on health and safety
Broken air-con in the office or at home causes extreme discomfort, especially in the hot and humid climate in the Middle East.
But broken or malfunctioning lifts are an entirely different matter altogether. The implications of neglecting a building’s plant and equipment can entail deadly consequences, particularly when it comes to lifts. Due to the vital role these play in transporting people and goods in the modern urban environment, the need for appropriate maintenance and repairs is a pressing matter. This is because of the safety-critical nature of lifts.
“In our business, safety is absolute. If air-con breaks down, it is uncomfortable but not life-threatening. Therefore we have to ensure our lifts are maintained properly, using genuine parts, and serviced by properly trained professionals,” says Al-Futtaim Engineering Elevators Division GM Syed Shamsul Haq. While the ideal situation is for lifts not to break down at all, this is unlikely due to the complexity of the equipment concerned and the heavy demands placed on it.
Two recent media reports highlight the fatal consequences of what can go wrong. In central Cape Town, South Africa on Friday 17 July, electrical engineer Leigh Kenton Roomes (26) fell four storeys down a lift shaft, succumbing to his injuries at hospital, which included a fractured skull. The lift apparently became stuck between the third and fourth floors, whereupon Roomes and his four friends pried open the doors.
Roomes attempted to reach the third-floor level, but apparently slipped and fell. On Thursday 16 July, it was reported that an elderly couple in Georgia in the US succumbed to heat exhaustion when their home lift got stuck between floors. Their bodies were only discovered four days later.
In Dubai on 11 January, a tour to the At The Top observation deck of Burj Khalifa turned into a nightmare for 15 visitors when they became stuck between floors in a high-speed lift, and had to be rescued via a service lift. Apparently the problem was only a ‘stall’, and hence not a major problem, but neither Burj Khalifa nor lift supplier Otis has issued any statement to date about the incident.
“A lift should not be seen as a box moving up and down. Behind them is complex technology that needs to be monitored and maintained. Regular preventative and proactive maintenance can avert breakdowns to a large extent, even though they cannot be eliminated totally,” says Joseph Anil Paul, product line manager for Schindler’s lift department. “It is the responsibility of the owners to ensure that their equipment is in the safe hands of a professional and capable maintenance provider.”
Rajkumar Viswanathan, service manager for Al-Futtaim Engineering’s Elevators Division, says the cause of breakdowns should be separated into those incidents that are controllable and those that are not. “From a lift maintenance perspective, controllable breakdowns have a technical cause, which might come down to the quality of production, installation or maintenance, while those that are uncontrollable are caused by misuse, vandalism or power supply problems, for example.
” Viswanathan explains that the breakdown rate is the accumulation of these factors and the incidents that arise.
In general, lifts need to be maintained on a monthly basis, but frequency of services and repairs can depend on the lifecycle of components. Lift maintenance includes a thorough inspection, which is based on the manufacturer’s recommendations, while other necessary adjustments are carried out as need be, according to Viswanathan.
“Services include cleaning the car tops, door mechanisms and machine rooms to keep dust and grime from getting into the equipment. The technicians should also inspect the machine room and ensure that the drives are working properly,” he explains. Check-ups can also include different tests of the lift’s operation, such as levelling, door operation, ride quality, operation of buttons, signal fixtures, door sensors, interphone, alarm and emergency landing devices, among others.
In order to get a first hand account of the maintenance routine, we spoke to ETA-Melco technician Jaffar Sadiq during a routine lift inspection in Dubai. “Lifts need to be inspected once a month. We are checking the ropes, carrying out an oil and grease service and checking the buttons, et cetera. We are giving the lifts a full service,” he reports.
However, in terms of overall maintenance programmes, there are various options that can be selected, says ThyssenKrupp vice-president of product planning Rory Smith.
“All service programmes fall inbetween two extremes, which are commonly known as full maintenance (FM) and oil and grease (O&G). FM is essentially an extended warranty whereby all parts and labour, including ‘trouble’ calls, are covered. O&G contracts only cover preventive maintenance and consumables such as oil, grease, rags and solvents. All parts and labour, including ‘trouble’ calls, are provided at extra cost,” explains Smith.
“Between the extremes of FM and O&G are many variations with many names that can be misleading. Some contracts include minor parts and minor trouble calls. Others cover all but the most expensive parts such as ropes, motors, and variable speed drives.” There are advantages and disadvantages associated with each type of contract. However, FM has a high initial cost. With O&G contracts, the initial cost is lower, as the basic monthly cost of an O&G contract is about 50% of the cost of a full maintenance contract.
“The total cost of a service, in the long run, should be the same for both O&G of FM agreements. The big difference is that major repairs, such as rope replacements, are costly and most likely will be an unbudgeted surprise,” says Smith.
There are also different service providers: the manufacturer, which undertakes maintenance of its own equipment; the independent third-party service provider, a small company that offers service on many brands of lifts, and a multinational third-party service provider, a manufacturer which offers services on competitors’ lifts. However, the latter is a potential minefield in and of itself.
“This is a highly specialised area, which is why we only maintain products that we are the agents for, where we are confident we can provide a service that will let the customer sleep well at night and not have to worry. Some companies do try and maintain other brands. We know how difficult it is simply maintaining our own lifts, and the technical skills required,” says Shamsul Haq.
“We provide preventative maintenance on a monthly basis, which is the normal servicing. At the same time we try to look at things in a more proactive manner by providing predictive maintenance. We do not wait for problems to occur in order to respond. Ideally we like to repair or change things before problems become manifest.”
In addition, every problem or breakdown reported is analysed properly in order to ascertain any trends or commonalities. “Sometimes after we analyse two to four calls we will reach a conclusion that this is a type of problem in a particular area, for example. Our focus is on areas related to the technical aspects, which is in our control. We have a sufficient inventory of spare parts because all of our contracts cover comprehensive maintenance. That means we assume total responsibility is ensuring our lifts are operational 24/7/365,” says Shamsul Haq.
So which type of contract is most applicable? “The type of service programme we opt for, when it comes to maintaining lifts, has to be carried out according to the international standard check list, which tests the running condition, door operation, cabin equipment, interphone, hall equipment, shaft equipment and optional equipment,” says Portland Middle East FM GM Abdelaziz Rihani. “Human lives are at risk, and if things go wrong, the FM provider is the only responsible party.”
Portland Middle East chooses the original manufacturer to service the lifts inside the projects it manages. “It saves time for the FM provider in terms of follow-ups, as it is their product, and no one could know the product better than the manufacturer or the main supplier,” says Rihani.
But isn’t opting for the manufacturer to carry out maintenance works more expensive than an independent third-party provider? “There are three important elements in a project, which a FM provider should not compromise on: the lifts, the fire system and the air-con system. If these things are not taken care of, then serious issues can occur. Therefore we would prefer to pay for quality services. Yes, it is quite costly, but it is a part of the whole FM cycle.”
“Lifts are designed and manufactured to serve a minimum period of 25-30 years, subject to equipments being maintained by the manufacturer’s trained personnel and hours of operation,” responds Viswanathan. “The equipment should also be upgraded in order to extend its life.”
Shamsul Haq says that energy efficiency and green building are having a significant impact. “In terms of lifts getting old, and their energy efficiency not being what could be expected, we can propose modernisation for certain brands. We do not replace the entire lift; instead we replace some parts and the control systems basically, so a more efficient system is in place at the end. All the world-class brands now have variable voltage, variable frequency (VVVF) type controls, while regeneration is also possible with some lifts, whereby the energy consumed is put back into the system.”
“In today’s competitive marketplace, and in an age of increasing technical advancement, customers’ expectations of their lift equipment are high. Throughout every property sector, building owners and tenants expect even greater standards of safety and reliability, and higher levels of performance and aesthetics,” notes Otis LLC GM Joseph Sebi.
“Modern technology evolves naturally. If owners and managers do not follow a continuous improvement programme, the building and its performance may decline accordingly. Passenger and building owner comparisons with new lift equipment will quickly establish that contemporary performance, safety and aesthetic standards are not being achieved. This can reduce the building’s value.”
In order to meet such expectations, Otis has devised the concept of ‘Phased Modernisation.’ As part of an ongoing investment, this aims to protect the efficient and rental value of a building. While comprehensive service programmes help maintain a lift’s performance as installed originally, this approach ensures timely technical, safety and stylistic upgrades are performed to protect the equipment investment. As a result, new lift technology can be incorporated in phases to offer increased reliability and many advantages to building owners, particularly avoiding a major upheaval in the building.