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Ontario plans elevator law as report recommends setting repair timelines

An out-of-service elevator is seen at a downtown Toronto building on Thursday, April 27, 2017.

Colin Perkel/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ontario aims to become a global leader in tackling the growing issue of elevator entrapments and breakdowns as it acts on a report that recommends beefing up maintenance enforcement and setting timelines to get out-of-service devices working again, the province's consumer services minister announced Thursday.

Tracy MacCharles, who has difficulty walking unaided, said the government would introduce legislation in the coming months that would recognize the importance of functioning elevators in an increasingly multi-storey world.

"Having access to an adequate number of working elevators is neither a convenience nor a luxury," MacCharles said. "It's a necessity. In some instances, it's an absolute lifeline."

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In a 57-page report released Thursday, retired Superior Court justice Douglas Cunningham found Ontario has no minimum preventive maintenance standards. The report also found only one in five elevators are in compliance with safety standards, a fact Cunningham chalked up to poor preventive maintenance which he said was the key cause of unscheduled breakdowns.

Among his 19 recommendations — the government said it would act on all of them — are to force contractors to report outages over 48 hours or when half the elevators in a building are out of service — 80 per cent of buildings have only one or two lifts — and to have a defined plan to restore service.

MacCharles said the government's plans include making information about elevator downtimes publicly available.

"Prospective residents can make better informed decisions before they rent or buy a home in a multistorey building," the minister said.

Planned building code changes would ensure new high-rises have enough elevator capacity to properly serve residents, while proposed amendments would give the province's elevator safety regulator, the Technical Standards and Safety Authority, the ability to impose administrative fines.

However, it remains to be seen whether a new agency will be needed to enforce what would be ground-breaking repair timelines, MacCharles said.

Cunningham's report also identified a shortage of elevator mechanics, something the government said it intends to tackle.

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Ontario has about 20,000 passenger elevators in residential buildings, long-term care and retirement homes. Cunningham said office elevators, where many people encounter the devices, were outside of his mandate but MacCharles said measures applied residentially could eventually be adapted to the office world as needed.

According to the study, one in five respondents said they had an elevator out of service for 18 days or more in any given year. Condominiums reported the biggest availability problem. Additionally, latest figures obtained by The Canadian Press show firefighters in Ontario responded to 4,577 calls by people trapped in elevators in 2016.

Liberal backbencher Han Dong, who introduced a well received private member's bill last year aimed at improving elevator availability, said if 26 entrapments took place every day on public transit, it would be considered a crisis. As a result, he said, the government's planned actions are huge.

"It's not often that we get to talk about a piece of legislation that sets precedence for the world and will change the elevator industry," Dong said.

Doug Guderian, president of Elevator One based in Barrie, Ont., noted Cunningham's report finds the big four elevator contractors — Kone, Otis, Schindler and ThyssenKrupp — own about 75 per cent of the market but employ only about 40 per cent of mechanics. His own surveys, he said, confirm the big four typically are unable to do the necessary work.

"How can 40 per cent of the province's elevator labour properly perform 75 per cent of the work?" Guderian said. "It is clear that the big four simply do not have enough men to get the work done."

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Guderian said he supports setting standards for a minimum number of elevators in new buildings and more frequent maintenance for all devices.

Gary Pieters, who speaks for hundreds of residents as president of Toronto's CityPlace Residents Association, welcomed MacCharles' announcement.

"It's definitely a step in the right direction," Pieters said. "There's a menu of measures to ensure elevator availability and reliability. It's necessary and a must."

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