July 17, 2017
Whether situated in the US or Canada, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act) is clear; every employer is responsible for providing a safe working environment for their employees that is free of any hazards likely to cause death or physical harm.
US – Occupational Health and Safety Act – Section 5 - Duties
Canada Labour Code – PART II – Occupational Health and Safety Act – Section 124
The main reason why elevator machine guarding is not systematically added to all elevator machine equipment is due to a lack of enforcement of this Act from governing bodies.
In the past, elevator machine rooms were dedicated solely for the purpose of housing elevator machines and equipment. This established a culture where the only people who would access the machine rooms and be subjected to the unguarded hazards were those who had been properly trained to follow the strict elevator industry safety rules. While this approach mitigated the likeliness of an employee being harmed by a hazard, it failed to meet the primary stipulation of the OHS Act where the work environment must be free of hazards.
Fast forward 40 years and most, if not all elevator rooms are now being used to house HVAC and other building subsystems. With the introduction of additional trade equipment comes the personnel responsible for maintaining these systems. These personnel are not trained to work around live elevator machines and are at a much larger risk of being harmed by unguarded hazards.
One thing to keep in mind is that no matter what training an employee has received, it is impossible to mitigate 100% of the risk of exposure to hazards. In order to provide a working environment which has truly minimized risk, a second layer of protection is required: elevator machine guarding. While guarding is a critical tool in minimizing risk, it can not replace training and must be considered complimentary.
Employees have the right to a safe and healthy workplace but who is responsible for providing such an environment; the building owner or the elevator contractor? The answer is both. The building owner owns the elevator equipment and thus must ensure that all hazards are guarded for elevator employees, maintenance personnel and any other individual who is given access to the elevator room. However, it does not mean that the elevator contractor would not be liable if an accident were to happen. The elevator contractor is also an employer and must, by law, make sure that its employees have access to a safe workplace.
If an accident were to occur due to an unsafe working environment, in this case, the absence of machine room guarding, both the building owner and the elevator contractor might be found liable and may be subject to fines and lawsuits. In June of 2015 a building owner in Ontario, Canada was fined $50,000 for violating occupational health and safety laws after a worker was injured while servicing an elevator.
Oxford Properties Group Fined $50,000 After Worker Suffers Injuries to Hands
Unfortunately, the idea of spending money on something that does not increase the value of a building is often viewed as wasteful by building owners. This is a common misconception that discourages elevator contractors from advocating for elevator machine room guarding. Despite this misconception, advocating is still encouraged as it promotes awareness of the potential consequences of not guarding while also providing due diligence.
The interests of all parties are best protected by providing OHSA compliant machine room guarding. Both the building owners and elevator contractors get the long-term assurance that they will not be liable for any fines or lawsuits with regards to occupational health and safety; and the elevator employees, maintenance personnel and any individuals given access to the elevator room are provided with a safe working environment. Keep in mind that there are several guarding solutions on the market but only a few are OHSA compliant. Before investing in elevator machine guarding one should make sure that the product being purchased is compliant, as only a compliant guard will help you reduce the risk of injury, death and liability.