Pushing the Right Button Safe and Sensible Elevator Refurbishment

In New York City, elevators are to vertical transportation what taxis and the subways are to horizontal transportation: ubiquitous and necessary, but not always safe. While newspapers eagerly report on subways that derail or on the latest taxi-jacking, elevator accidents don’t seem to grab as many headlines. Consequently, we ride assuming that this particular mode of transport, now nearly 150 years old, will take us safely from point A to point B.

Unfortunately, elevator safety is not a foregone conclusion. Between 1992 and 1996, New York City averaged one elevator accident every five days, resulting in over 379 injuries and 30 deaths. Many such incidents could have been prevented through careful attention to safety and maintenance requirements. Co-op boards and building owners, not elevator maintenance organizations, are ultimately responsible for the safety of a building’s elevators. They are the ones responsible for insuring that proper and timely maintenance is carried out on existing elevators and that elevators that are no longer in passable condition be renovated or replaced.

Safe or Unsafe?

How can you, an average elevator rider, determine whether an elevator is safe or not? Most people would assume that a cursory glance at the inspection certificate posted in the cab of any elevator tells all. If the lift in question has passed its most recent safety inspection, most would reason that it’s safe and in good working order.

As it turns out, this civilian certificate-check is naive. Only certified elevator inspectors can determine to the fullest extent whether an elevator is safe for passengers. The inspections they must perform go beyond the annual inspection that renews the certificate. This means that even if a certificate seems to be up-to-date, there may be a number of other inspections that have not been performed.


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  • I am a Board member of The Chocolate Factory Condos in Brooklyn, NY. Nouveau had been our prior elevator service company. Due to their failure to file a NYC DOB 2011 Affirmation of correction more than one year late to the DOB. This resulted in a $3,000 fine. Nouveau has not responded to requests for reimbursement for these fines. This is routine procedure and their failure to file on our behalf was a failure of service.