Ontario auditor general’s report slams elevator companies, safety authority
By Colin Perkel
December 10, 2018
By Colin Perkel
TORONTO – Large elevator companies are continually thumbing their noses at Ontario’s largely impotent safety authority, the province’s auditor-general has found.
In her annual report this week, Bonnie Lysyk said the Technical Standards and Safety Authority or TSSA lacks the tools to deal with the handful of giant companies that own much of the elevator – maintenance market but whose work consistently falls short – sometimes with disastrous consequences.
“The TSSA lacks strong enough enforcement powers to deal with the large elevator maintenance companies that for years have not maintained most of Ontario’s operating elevators in accordance with safety laws,” the auditor’s report states.
According to the report, which echoes findings from a Canadian Press investigation published in 2016, the percentage of elevators and escalators failing their safety inspections has risen to above 80 per cent. The report traces the high failure rate to a lack of maintenance work and safety testing.
“Maintenance companies are the primary cause of poor compliance,” the report states. “To win market share, these companies offer services at reduced rates, which in turn creates incentives for them to minimize time and effort dedicated to maintaining or fixing elevators.”
Although it does not name the company, the report is especially critical of multinational giant ThyssenKrupp _ responsible for maintaining about one quarter of all elevators in Ontario – and the inability of the safety authority to rein the company in.
Despite repeated and successful prosecutions, the report finds 93 per cent of the inspected elevators maintained by the company in areas related to the prosecutions failed to pass their latest inspections in 2018.
“Five of these elevators are located in a Toronto hospital,” the report says. “Serious non-compliance issues … include overdue maintenance work to prevent brake malfunction, and wear and tear on cables and other components.”
In an email Friday, ThyssenKrupp said it had not reviewed the full report but said it was “committed to the safe and reliable operation of all of the vertical transportation equipment that it services both in Ontario and throughout Canada.”
While deaths and injuries from elevator mishaps are relatively rare, they are occurring more frequently. For example, from May 2013 to April 2018, three people were killed and another 145 injured, eight of them permanently.
Lysyk’s report makes no mention of the issue of elevator reliability and availability – including the thousands of entrapments that occur each year.
According to her report, the safety authority deems it impractical to shut down the operating licences of the large maintenance companies – ThyssenKrupp, Kone, Schindler and Delta – no matter how poor their track record, and equally difficult to take non-compliant elevators out of service.
“Shutting down elevators to enforce compliance is also not practical,” the report states. “Unless there is an immediate risk to public safety, it only affects the building’s tenants and ends up benefiting the maintenance companies, as they often charge owners a higher rate for performing emergency repairs to bring the elevators back into service.”
The report found some building owners are loathe to take on the big companies, but also find it difficult to go elsewhere because of ironclad contracts and a requirement to use company-owned technology.
The elevator companies tend to blame building owners for being unwilling to spend money on maintenance and also cite a shortage of fully-trained technicians.
The TSSA said in response to the auditor’s report that it was developing a new “outcomes-based regulatory approach for effectively identifying risk, increasing compliance and promoting safety.”
For its part, the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, which is responsible for the safety authority, said it was looking to enhance its oversight processes to provide greater assurances that the TSSA is meeting its public safety mandate in the interests of the people of Ontario.