Safety standards a necessary consideration amidst elevator industry boom

28th September 2007 By: Gerrit Bezuidenhout

Passenger conveyance regulating authority Lift Engineering Association (LEA) says that the South African elevator industry is experiencing a period of unexpected sharp growth owing to the current infrastructure boom experienced by the country.

“In light of buildings being constructed as well as the construction of the Gautrain, elevator manufacturing companies have seen a marked rise in the demand for elevators and other passenger conveyors,” LEA chairperson Rajan Chengadu says.

He says that older buildings and businesses are also upgrading and replacing existing elevator systems.

LEA vice-chairperson Bruno Isler agrees.

“With the demand for elevators rising sharply, special care has to be given to adhering to safety standards,” he says.

Isler points out that elevator manufacturers are moving towards improved technologies in all aspects of elevator systems.

“Asbestos components, such as brake linings, are being phased out and are being replaced by modern materials which do not present a health risk to elevator users. There are also improvements in windings and control systems and level accuracy, while new elevator systems are becoming more energy efficient and environmentally friendly,” he explains.

Chengadu says that noise reduction levels are also starting to feature more prominently in elevator technology as is travel comfort.

Isler says that new VF control systems implemented by elevator manufacturers ensure better stability and control of elevators.

“Most elevator equipment is also imported, which means that the equipment complies with European safety standards,” Chengadu says.

He says that importing elevator equipment is more cost-effective than producing local components.

“Large elevator companies choose to have manufacturing facilities only on the major continents, serving as distribution centres for their other operations. In terms of numbers, South Africa is a small consumer of elevator components and that is the reason why large manufacturers choose to import the components,” Isler comments.

Chengadu says that new standards are being introduced into the elevator industry that are stricter than previous standards.

“In the past, compliance with standards was not as strictly enforced as it is in the current industry. Contractors are using external auditors to audit elevator systems to ensure compliance with the new standards,” Chengadu says.

The LEA also subscribes to the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) standard, which, in turn, subscribes to the International Standards Organisation’s (ISO’s) TC 178 standard. Isler says the SABS is a representative of the ISO and is a participant member of the organ-isation, giving it voting and partici-pative rights.

He says participation in the ISO is important because it creates a standardised unit of measuring elevator energy efficiency.

Isler comments that maintenance on elevators should be done on a monthly basis, or as specified by the elevator manufacturer. He says, however, that the Department of Labour also prescribes maintenance regulations for elevators and can perform inspections as it sees fit.

One of the greatest challenges facing the elevator industry is a skills shortage.

Chengadu says that the reason for the shortage is in part due to skilled artisans emigrating or retiring from the industry, while replacements are in short supply.

It is for this reason that the industry is currently involved in developing a learnership programme which should replace the previous apprenticeship programmes.

Isler says that the apprentice- ship programmes last for between three and four years. The new learnership programme is aimed at training new elevator technicians and creating an industry standard for these technicians. It has been submitted to the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Education and Training Authority for final approval before being implemented.

He says that the larger elevator companies also have in-house accredited training programmes to provide training not only for new employees, but also for established employees to upgrade training.

Isler says that companies are paying more attention to safety training as well.

Chengadu says that the LEA has also compiled an educational film on elevator and escalator safety awareness and use. The film, entitled Safe ride, focuses on the promotion of safety in passenger conveyors and is not company specific. The film has also been translated and has been used in Hong Kong to promote escalator and elevator safety in China.

Chengadu says that South Africa currently has over one hundred regulated lift companies, ranging from small to medium- sized enterprises to large operators.

“This has made the elevator industry very competitive and thus the LEA has signed a code of ethics to determine how the code’s signatories conduct business,” Chengadu explains.

He says that the LEA has also managed to sign a three-year wage deal with industry employees.

“The wage negotiations signing is a good stabilising factor in the industry,” Chengadu concludes.