Key priorities to ensure safe and reliable lift operation

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John Newbold, director of lift consultancy business, SVM Associates, who has worked in the lift business for almost 40 years, outlines some of the challenges faced, and lessons learnt, from assisting both Estates and Capital Project Departments manage their lifts.

A central aspect of the Authorising Engineer Lifts AE (L) role is an annual audit. Our audits consider a broad range of advice and standards relating to lifts. These include healthcare-specific guidelines such as those detailed in HTM 08-02: Design and maintenance of lifts in the health sector, and the Premises Assurance Model, lift-related standards including BS EN 13015, BS 7255, BS 9999, and BS EN 81-80, and statutory requirements PUWER, MHSWR, and LOLER.

How do we manage compliance?

Of these we find LOLER compliance to require the most active management. With passenger-carrying lifts requiring six-monthly Thorough Examinations, there is frequent opportunity for a lapse in process to expose the Trust to statutory risk. We have seen lifts in service without a current Certificate of Thorough Examination discovered only through the occurrence of an accident. This need not be a serious accident, but a trip, fall, or collision with a door that at best will strengthen the effectiveness of any commercial claim, and at worst lead to legal action against the Trust. This situation can occur if the process is simply relying on the Competent Person under LOLER (often an insurance company) to schedule and complete their regular inspections. Lifts can be omitted from a regular LOLER inspection if they are isolated, awaiting repair, and then returned to service by the lift contractor inadvertently without a Certificate of Thorough Examination. We have seen good processes to manage this – including a traffic light compliance board for each lift mounted in the Estates office, and a lock-off, tag-off process that requires current certification on lift reinstatement

Changes to SAFed guidance (referenced by LOLER inspectors) have led to many more recommendations for Supplementary Tests on safety equipment. If these are not heeded and carried out ahead of the next inspection, the Competent Person will not examine the lift – effectively removing it from service. Active review of reports and raising the requisite actions need to be scheduled activities

HTM 08-02-compliant lift maintenance – is it possible?

The role of Competent Person as defined in HTM 08-02 is a lift service contractor. Some good advice as to the requirements of a lift maintenance contract is contained in HTM 08-02, but this is almost never reflected in lift contractors’ standard terms. They are usually lacking in detail as to specific maintenance activities, and the inclusions ill defined. Some also have an automatic roll-over provision, meaning the Trust can inadvertently enter into a new contract term because it did not actively cancel the contract in the defined period.

Performance-guaranteed maintenance contracts (PGMC), which have a commercial link to Service Level Agreements, or fully comprehensive contracts, are recommended by HTM 08-02. The rationale behind this is to place the cost risk of equipment failure with the party most able to manage it, i.e. the lift contractor. While the day-to-day contract management is easier, without the need for numerous quotes and orders, the temptation for the lift contractor not to repair faulty or poor-performing equipment at its cost needs to be managed to improve the performance and reliability of the lifts. Where a more basic contract coverage is in place, the move up to a comprehensive contract or PGMC can mean a significant increase in contract cost, especially with a mixed or ageing lift fleet. Overall cost may not be higher when the cost of ad-hoc lift repairs is also factored in. A comprehensive position is available in the form of a ‘threshold’ contract, whereby the Trust accepts liability for repairs above a certain value. 

In reality, due to the high cost of lift work, this value should be no less than £1000, as below this is effectively a basic contract anyway.

Need for independent auditing

Whichever contract coverage is in place, independent auditing is essential. For comprehensive cover this will ensure that the contractor is investing sufficiently in maintaining the lifts. For more basic contracts, a check on routine maintenance and adjustment is required to ensure that neglect does not lead to expensive (and lucrative) larger repairs. Unsurprisingly, independent audits are also a requirement of HTM 08-02

Our independent maintenance audits are undertaken in detail, and generate an unambiguous quality score. This has proven useful to track performance and – over several cycles, coupled with feedback and reviews – is proven to improve the performance and reliability of the lifts.

How do we manage passenger entrapments?

Becoming trapped in a lift is a distressing experience, but in a healthcare environment can also have life-threatening implications. It is for this reason that HTM 08-02 recommends that site response to a trapped passenger incident should be no more than an hour. In practice, this is very difficult for a contractor to achieve, particularly out of hours. HTM 08-02 recognises the prospect of Estates personnel releasing trapped passengers. This is hazardous, and discouraged in general, as passengers in good health are deemed safer in a lift than subject to an inexperienced and potentially dangerous release. HTM 08-02 therefore demands 

  • Lift-specific release instructions.
  • Formal training for release wardens every three years, consisting of a classroom theory session, practical training, and written test.
  • Refresher training and competence assessment.

Arranging this can be challenging. Release instructions provided in the lift machine room are generic, and do not highlight and manage the specific hazards. Our experience in generating lift-specific release instructions is based on carrying out the exercise on the actual lift. We find that real-world release techniques must differ from theoretical approaches, due to the type or condition of the equipment. Releasing doors in the real world can be particularly problematic, because the door releases are poorly adjusted, or the lift car doors are hard to overcome

Lift companies are either unwilling to provide any training, or are ill equipped to deliver formal training sessions in accordance with the requirements of both HTM 08-02 and the healthcare staff carrying out the release. 

Machine room-less lifts

The trend towards machine room-less lifts requires product specific release techniques, and, due to the remoteness of the lift machine, a different set of assumptions needs to be taught. In carrying out training and demonstrations, we have found a high proportion of passenger release equipment failures, indicating that this is not a maintenance focus. Identifying this failure during an emergency release is too late, so is a compelling reason to carry out independent audits to identify any problems beforehand.

Managing lifecycle replacement, lift failure, and new installations

Established healthcare premises and estates typically have numerous lifts of varying ages and types. Investment in lift stock can be in the form of retrofitting safety features, or lifecycle investment involving replacement or comprehensive refurbishment. Too often we witness contractor-led solutions that are inappropriate or not needed, driven by equipment failure or sales targets. Considered investment should look at capital spend more strategically, and be risk assessment-based. The NHS Estates guide, A risk based methodology for establishing and managing backlog, can be readily applied for lifts. A health and safety risk assessment following BS EN 81-80 is a more detailed methodology than that contained within the guide, but other considerations to make include engineering condition and serviceability/obsolescence. The resulting scoring methodology then prioritises investment need, assisting the Estates and Capital Planning team to formulate a considered investment plan.

Lifecycle investment is a necessary activity, and in larger estates can be almost continuous. If you consider the life of a lift to be 20 years, and the estate has a portfolio of buildings of different ages with 20 or more lifts, which is not uncommon in most Trusts, modernising just one lift a year means it will be life expired by the time the other lifts have been completed, thus requiring another round of investment – a painting of the Forth Bridge scenario. We have seen lifts modernised three times with only guide rails, car, and counterweight surviving from the original installation. We also commonly see partial modernisations where (usually) just the controls have been replaced. The reasons for only partially modernising a lift can be budgetary, or often a knee-jerk response to a contractor-led recommendation, usually because the company concerned is struggling to satisfactorily repair an unreliable lift. Partial modernisations are not a good solution because:

  • They address only one (or a limited number) of equipment areas. This leaves the residual equipment behind in terms of standards, performance, and wear through age 
  • The interface between new and residual equipment can lead to technical incompatibility. This is particularly the case when a new door operator is expected to work with existing doors. A better-engineered solution is often possible, but because partial modernisations are of lower value, they are usually handled at local office level, and so do not receive formal engineering input – quite often, without installation drawings. Consequently, the lift does not perform well, due to poor quality work, because the site installation engineer is left to his own devices to just get the lift working again
  •  Partial investment can also give the impression to senior stakeholders that the lift has essentially been renewed, with the oft-repeated phrase, ‘We only modernised that lift last year’. This makes the case for planned programmed investment more difficult, especially as the newer equipment subject to the partial modernisation is inevitably replaced ahead of its lifecycle expiry – a case of good money after bad. The legacy of partial modernisation impacts reliability and performance, and should be avoided until a considered modernisation can be budgeted and planned. 

Sound design advice

HTM 08-02 offers sound design advice, and recommends alignment to current standards wherever possible; important if the brief is to extend the working life by 20 years. There are also other beneficial design features open to a lift modernisation design not generally available in a new lift installation, because lift modernisations are typically bespoke. Antibacterial buttons, customised display screens, automatic rope tensioners, and robust doors and architraves, are all facets that can be introduced through considered and intelligent design.

Comprehensive modernisations or replacement should consider how the hospital requirements may have changed over time, and how the lift design should change to accommodate it. A fundamental consideration is whether the lift plays a part in the life safety strategies – from its cause and effect response to a fire alarm, through to converting it to a firefighters’ or evacuation lift. HTM 05-03 outlines factors and advice in deploying evacuation lifts, but close consultation with the Fire Safety Team is essential to ensure that the lift tailors with the particular strategy of the building.

Employing a consultant

It is clear that a consultant should be employed with knowledge not just of lift engineering, but also of healthcare requirements, to develop a lift modernisation/replacement design as opposed to a contractor-led solution. The Trust AE (Lifts) should be able to advise on this, and provide a brief enabling a fee quote to be generated.

Of course, new-build developments incorporate new units which are now likely to be machine room-less (MRL) lifts. These are usually commodity products, and as such are less robust than older, ‘traditional’ lifts – even when they are classed as heavy duty ‘hospital’ lifts. Lifts supplied and installed by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) give rise to additional issues. Despite their claims to the contrary, OEM lifts are more difficult for a lift company other than the installer to maintain; parts are available but expensive, and access to the diagnostic control menus is often limited compared with the access afforded to their own engineers

Technical product support from OEMs to other service companies is only provided (if at all) by an expensive engineer’s visit. This contrasts with open market products, where remote technical support and information are available to all lift service contractors. Handover documentation provided by OEMs does not usually include detailed technical manuals for the installed equipment, and a more recent trend is for them to retain signed test sheets. These should be provided by the OEMs at handover, and should be insisted upon

Signed test sheets are a requirement of HTM 08-02, along with completed Appendices C and D (supplements to the tests sheets) and other handover documentation. We also pay particular attention to the provision of safe systems of work/repair instructions, and the detail for passenger release in handover documents – even more essential in MRL lifts

A case could be made for OEM lifts where the entire hospital can enter into a new suitable maintenance contract with the OEM installer, but this would need to be on a long-term basis, with mechanisms for price control and delivery quality.

Are escalators in hospitals a good idea?

Appendix H of HTM 08-02 relates to guidance in the provision of escalators. Escalators are featuring more frequently in newer hospitals, usually located in the main reception. Escalators are an excellent means to transport large volumes of passengers over a short distance; hence their application in transport interchanges and shops, where they allow browsing while riding and transferring between escalators 

Hospitals have neither requirement, and so the incorporation of escalators into a hospital design is more a matter of aesthetics than function. We would urge caution for designers contemplating an escalator in a hospital scheme, for two compelling reasons:

  • The very nature of escalators – the public interacting with a moving machine – means the incidence of accidents is more than in lifts. and they are often more severe, involving falls, and potentially trapped body parts. This is magnified when the escalator users are elderly, physically or mentally impaired, or emotionally distressed – typical of many hospital users
  • Maintenance of escalators is expensive. Main wearing parts such as step chains and handrails can cost many thousands of pounds, and the access to most equipment is a two-man activity, where steps are removed (and thus time-consuming). If a barriered escalator in a busy public area is undesirable, this might also be scheduled for a quiet time, adding further cost to the maintenance price because of overtime

If escalators are installed, clear and obvious signage is needed to point out alternative routes such as stairs and lifts. Staff need to be stationed (at reception perhaps) to intervene when people intending to use the escalators would be better served using the lift.

Why appoint an Authorising Engineer (Lifts)?

Lifts need active consideration and management, as they are essential to the smooth running of the healthcare facility. HTM 08-02 is a good source of sound advice and compliance, and that, along with the Authorising Engineer (lifts) overseeing policy and process, should ensure compliant and reliable lifts in service. 

John Newbold

Time served with Otis, John Newbold CEng, MIET, has spent his entire career in the lift industry, and is now director of SVM Associates’ VT (Vertical Transport) team of nine engineers. He has an HND in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, which supported his eventual position of regional field service technician for Otis. This technical background enables him to take an active role in guiding projects and forming technical policy. He takes an active interest in industry developments, not just in the UK, but across Europe and the US, and is a member of North American Elevator Contractors (NAEC). He advises Houses of Parliament Strategic Estates on lift design and procurement, and acts as Authorising Engineer (Lifts) for a number of NHS Trusts. In addition to overseeing the VT projects, he often acts as expert witness in legal disputes. He sits on the BCO Technical Committee for lifts, and is a Chartered Engineer

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