July ’18 Elevator Constructor

Brothers and sisters:

I want to say something about safety. Some may agree with what I have to say, others may disagree but, that is where conversations about important topics start.

Here it goes…

Safety, as with all things important, begins with ownership. Let me explain.

Most of us who have watched the business change over the last twenty years remember when we as individual elevator constructors owned the work we did. We took personal responsibility for the execution of our construction, service or maintenance jobs and, regardless of the outcome, owned the result for the better or the worse. I have had the pleasure of working with numerous professionals during my career who did just that. I have also had the pleasure of working with individuals who shunted the blame for poor outcomes to others. Both taught me something about the constructor I wanted to become.

When I took on a maintenance route as a temporary mechanic waiting to take my test, I took a personal responsibility for the 96 units under my care. Clearing up the issues resulting in five to seven callbacks a day and making the elevators my customers depended on as invisible as possible was my top priority. I was successful to the point where once my route reached 178 units all but two were running, all the violations and testing I was responsible for were clear and up to date. Customer satisfaction went from three out of five to almost five out of five and I had two to three callbacks a week.

I owned my route. I owned my job. I took pride in my work.

Along the way though, there was a shift. The testing team disappeared, the one-man pressure test became the norm, route mechanics were pulled away from their routes and teamed up with a helper or second mechanic to do contract repair. Billable work was limited to the four corners of the work order and if you noticed another problem, well, if it’s not on the paperwork then look the other way. The phrase “it’s not on the work order” became both a weapon by supervisors and a defense for the constructor.

The result of this being the company took ownership away from the constructor. We became complacent and began to accept that it was always someone else problem. The maintenance guy will find it, the service team will fix it, did the salesman even look at the job? We did what was on the work order. Where do we go tomorrow?

What I’ve noticed is that once we started to lose the ownership of our work, it has become a lot easier to walk away from small issues that could become larger problems. So that door gib is a little shallow, the maintenance guy will fix it. The demarcation on the step is broke. There are 96 steps on this escalator. What are the chances a kids shoelace will get caught? That brush looks a little iffy. Well, maybe it will be good enough for another couple of months until I can get back here to replace it. It’s these small complacencies that allow us to die a small death everyday.

This attitude also extends to safety. Safety has become a morning slogan on a thread, a poster contest for your grade schooler, a bag full of stuff to take to a job, a threat of three days off or a piece of OSHA driven paper. All of this fulfills the company responsibility to provide a comprehensive safety program to their employees as well as defined disciplinary actions for non-compliance. Realistically, how many times have we seen the same videos in our monthly safety meetings? Enough to recite the script?

There has to be a fundamental change in the way we view safety and it cannot be top down, it has to be inside out. By this I mean, when you find a problem fix it. Once you have found an issue it becomes your responsibility to see it is remedied, do not pass the buck. Sometimes this will mean leaving critical units out of service. So what! If you discover a critical design flaw in a piece of equipment, take it up with the proper people. This might mean calling your company engineer directly. “But my boss will be mad!” So what! We work in an industry where everything is designed, manufactured, installed, maintained, repaired and operated by humans. This leaves a lot of room for error and no one can think of everything. If you do call the engineer, do not just complain, offer a solution.

Ultimately if you own your job, you own your safety.


The Brothers and Sisters of Local 17 send their condolences to the family of Brother Rick Bodnar who passed away February 27th.

As of this writing there are three mechanics and one apprentice on the bench.
Until next month,

Work smart, work safe and slow down for safety.


%d bloggers like this: