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High Standards:
As Elevators Advance so do their Safety Codes
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[+] Author Notes

Jean Thilmany is an associate editor at Mechanical Engineering.

Mechanical Engineering 135(07), 46-49 (Jul 01, 2013) (4 pages) Paper No: ME-13-JUL3; doi: 10.1115/1.2013-JUL-3

Abstract

This article discusses recent updates to standard codes for elevator safety and operation. This article gives a look at today’s ASME A17.1-2010/CSA B44-10, Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators. The standard jointly developed by ASME and the Canadian Standards Association shows how the original 1921 safety code has developed through the years. It now includes requirements for escalators and moving walkways as well as software and hardware requirements that did not exist 90 years ago. A group of organizations spearheaded by ASME held a symposium in December 2010 to look into elevator use during high-rise evacuations, which was a continuation of the earlier work started after 2001. Committee members spoke to experts on human factors and human conditioning when writing the requirements. The new provisions may better serve designers, manufacturers, contractors, and operators of wind turbine tower elevators by providing added confidence and consistency in the design and operation of such equipment, according to an ASME statement.

Article

In 1854, Elisha Graves Otis cut the rope on a hoisted platform at the New York world's fair. the platform stayed aloft, as he knew it would, because otis was demonstrating a safety brake he’d recently invented to prevent the fall of the elevator platform should its hoisting rope break.

The Oriental Pearl TV tower in Shanghai contains an elevator to take passengers to the viewing cabin 350 meters, or around 1,148 feet, above the ground.

Photo: Otis Elevator Co.

Grahic Jump LocationThe Oriental Pearl TV tower in Shanghai contains an elevator to take passengers to the viewing cabin 350 meters, or around 1,148 feet, above the ground.Photo: Otis Elevator Co.

The Otis Elevator Co. set up its first plant (pictured below in 1868) in Yonkers, N.Y. Elisha Otis founded the company in 1853. Headquarters are now in Farmington, Conn.

All photos courtesy of Otis Elevator Co.

Grahic Jump LocationThe Otis Elevator Co. set up its first plant (pictured below in 1868) in Yonkers, N.Y. Elisha Otis founded the company in 1853. Headquarters are now in Farmington, Conn.All photos courtesy of Otis Elevator Co.

Three years later, Otis installed the first passenger elevator in the Haughwout Building in New York City. The age of elevator travel had arrived. This year, the Otis Elevator Co., founded in New York and now based in Farmington, Conn., celebrates its 160 birthday.

This year also marks the 92nd anniversary of ASME's A17, Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators. This fall the 2013 edition of the standard will be published and will address issues that show how far elevators have come since Elisha Otis's day. The 2013 edition will include new requirements for using elevators to evacuate high-rises in emergencies and requirements for elevators installed within wind turbine towers, said Patricia Reddington, director, safety codes and standards at ASME.

Through the years, the code has kept up with changes in elevators and the technology that drives them. A look at today's ASME A17.1-2010/CSA B44-10, Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators, the standard jointly developed by ASME and the Canadian Standards Association, shows how the original 1921 safety code has developed through the years. It now includes requirements for escalators and moving walkways as well as software and hardware requirements that did not exist 90 years ago.

In 1889 Otis Elevator Co. installed the first electric elevator, shown above, in the Demarest Carriage Building on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Grahic Jump LocationIn 1889 Otis Elevator Co. installed the first electric elevator, shown above, in the Demarest Carriage Building on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

It was the increasingly commonplace appearance of elevators that led to the code itself, Reddington said.

“The public had more and more concerns about elevator safety and the safety codes helped make people more comfortable,” she said.

The code sets out guidelines and requirements for the maintenance, inspection, manufacture, design, installation, operation, testing, alteration, and repair of elevators, she said.

Since its inception in 1921 the standard has undergone many revisions and the committee has answered numerous interpretations; these are responses to questions that further delineate the code when users ask for clarification, said Geraldine Burdeshaw, project engineering advisor for the A17 Standards Committee.

More than 250 volunteers from industry and government work on the A17 standards committee and its more than 20 subcommittees to develop updates to the code to reflect current best practices and the advances in technology. Approximately every three years, a new edition of A17.1 is published containing the latest code updates.

At the Luxor Las Vegas, a hotel and casino on the Las Vegas strip, the 4,400 guest rooms are situated on the outer walls of a 30-story pyramid and are reached by riding elevators that travel along the inner surface of the pyramid at a 39-degree angle.

Grahic Jump LocationAt the Luxor Las Vegas, a hotel and casino on the Las Vegas strip, the 4,400 guest rooms are situated on the outer walls of a 30-story pyramid and are reached by riding elevators that travel along the inner surface of the pyramid at a 39-degree angle.

BURDESHAW HAS WORKED WITH THE A17 Standards Committee as well its subco mittees for the past 20 years. Her work has made her see the elevators she rides every day as a New York office worker in a different light from her fellow riders.

“When you ride in a device, you don’t really think about what's going on behind it,” she said. “Now I do.”

And she definitely feels safe.

“You’ve heard the buzzing,” Burdeshaw said. “That's a safety feature indicating the elevator load weight is almost at capacity. And leveling requirements have gotten a lot more accurate. Years ago it used to be elevators would drift up or down a little; now they can automatically re-level with the floor.”

Escalators, along with the moving sidewalks often found at airports, are also regulated by A17, Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators.

National Elevator Industry Inc., a trade association, estimates that there are 900,000 elevators in the United States providing a total of 18 billion passenger trips a year. The group estimates that 35,000 escalators transport 105 billion passengers a year in the U.S.

“Most people do not give a lot of thought to elevators when they’re using them, but if you think about it, they’re the infrastructure on which major cities are built,” Reddington said. “You couldn’t have high rises if you didn’t have elevators and escalators. They’re a convenience that's taken for granted but walking up ten plus stories every day to either your office or home wouldn’t be practical. So it's easy to understand how codes and standards play a critical role in public safety.”

The code is used by anyone engaged in the safety of elevators, escalators, moving sidewalks, and related equipment. This includes designers, engineers, manufacturers, inspectors, property and facility managers, plant managers, and emergency responders, among others.

Several organizations including ASME itself train users on implementing the code.

AS WITH ELEVATOR TECHNOLOGY, THE CODE reinvents itself and is updated regularly, Burdeshaw said.

A look at the major code changes also offers a look at how technology has evolved through the past 92 years.

The first edition of the code dealt only with elevators. Requirements were next written for escalators, then for elevators in private residences, and later for moving walks. The text of the code now runs to more than 400 pages.

“As the standard evolved and grew additional standards emerged,” she said. “The committee also covers A17.2, which is a guide for inspection. The A17.1 actually developed inspection requirements but then a separate standard was developed to provide guidelines that expand on and explain how to do inspections.”

The elevator code has sections on maintenance that dictate how elevators are to be altered and repaired. Those requirements have also been continually updated.

In 1986 the A17 Committee developed A17.3. This standard addresses existing installations, elevators already in use, and how elevators should be retrofitted with technology such as the fire-call buttons to meet the elevator requirements originally developed by ASME in 1981. In 1972 another standard, A17.4, was developed which explains to emergency personnel how to respond in a uniform manner to those trapped in elevators during an emergency. All A17 standards are continually updated.

“Another major change was computers/ controllers, which was huge,” Burdeshaw said. “Twenty years ago, yes, they had computers/controllers but they were really big, and encompassed an entire room. So you had these huge machines controlling the elevators. A17.1 addressed electrical components listing and certification in a new standard, ASME A17.5/CSA B44.1, which was first published in 1991.”

The year 2007 saw the release of ASME A17.7/CSA B44.7 to address the growth of innovations in technology within the elevator industry. Because technology changes so fast, this standard is what's called a performance-based code, Burdeshaw said.

“It's amazing how quickly technology changes and it's hard for the committee because code-writing is a consensus process and it can take some time for a consensus to be reached,” she said. “We don’t want to hold back new technology.”

For that reason ASME A17.7/CSA B44.7 says users have to show equivalency to the ASME A17.1/CSA B44 standard but don’t have to meet them exactly, she added. The maker of a new elevator component not yet covered by ASME A17.1/CSA B44 could use that standard to try to get the technology adopted within particular jurisdictions, Burdeshaw said.

THE NEXT UPDATE TO ASME A17.1/CSA B44 will address the use of elevators during high-rise emergency evacuations, she said.

A group of organizations spearheaded by ASME held a symposium in December 2010 to look elevator use during high-rise evacuations which was a continuation of earlier work started after 2001. Group members included several standards development organizations, including those developing building codes as well as other code-writing and regulatory agencies.

“The longstanding rule is you do not use elevators in emergencies,” Burdeshaw said. But this has not proved applicable to every circumstance.

Per building code requirements, the standard will allow firefighters to use certain elevators for evacuation rather than require that all elevators be sent to the lobby during emergencies.

The update applies to newly installed elevators, though existing elevators could be retrofitted in order to be used during emergencies, she said.

In 1857, the five-story Haughwout Building in New York City became home to Otis's the first passenger elevator, powered by a steam engine in the basement. The building still stands today in SoHo. Right: Elisha Graves Otis demonstrates at the 1854 New York World's Fair the mechanics of his safety brake to prevent the elevator platform's fall.

Grahic Jump LocationIn 1857, the five-story Haughwout Building in New York City became home to Otis's the first passenger elevator, powered by a steam engine in the basement. The building still stands today in SoHo. Right: Elisha Graves Otis demonstrates at the 1854 New York World's Fair the mechanics of his safety brake to prevent the elevator platform's fall.

The Petronas Towers, twin skyscrapers in Kuala Lumpur, Malysia, were the world's tallest buildings from 1998 to 2004—an impractical distinction for a walkup.

Grahic Jump LocationThe Petronas Towers, twin skyscrapers in Kuala Lumpur, Malysia, were the world's tallest buildings from 1998 to 2004—an impractical distinction for a walkup.

Committee members spoke to experts on human factors and human conditioning when writing the requirements, Burdeshaw said.

“It will probably take a while for people to get used to the evacuation procedures,” she said.

Wind turbines also need elevators to access their upper levels. This year's edition of the standard addresses elevators in enclosed wind turbine towers, which are needed to service the wind turbine equipment, which can be 200 or 300 feet above ground level—and, as discussed in “Reaching for the Sky” on page 40 of this issue, ever-taller turbines are in development..

The new provisions may better serve designers, manufacturers, contractors, and operators of wind turbine tower elevators by providing added confidence and consistency in the design and operation of such equipment, according to an ASME statement.

As in the case of high-rise buildings, contemporary largescale wind turbines would be impractical without elevators, Burdeshaw said. A mechanic who has to go to the top of the structure to service equipment would otherwise have to climb stairs or a ladder.

Elevators and related technology have changed significantly in the 160 years since the Otis company was formed. Standards have had to keep up with those changes. And there is no sign that either will slow down soon.

“There are so many new innovations and new technologies being developed and introduced in the elevator industry that it makes the standard a living and continuously changing document,” Burdeshaw said. “An elevator is a device used every day. You see them everywhere. So I find the standards fascinating.”

Copyright © 2013 by ASME
Topics: Safety , Elevators
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References

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Tables

Table Grahic Jump Location
ESTIMATED TRAFFIC FOR ELEVATORS AND ESCALATOÅRS IN THE U.S.

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