Amid deaths and injuries, NY legislature moves to require that elevator mechanics be licensed

The measure is in response to mounting deaths in elevators linked to safety lapses by untrained mechanics.

Diane Savino and Andrea Stuart Cousins
Diane Savino and Andrea Stuart Cousins

After several years of false starts and calls for reform, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill this week mandating licensing for elevator mechanics.

The measure is in response to a growing number of injuries and fatalities in elevators linked to safety lapses by untrained mechanics and spotty enforcement of maintenance standards. Though the city’s 63,000 passenger elevators are tested and inspected by licensed professionals, the every-day maintenance is left to individuals with disparate levels of training.

“When this bill is signed, we are going to see elevator safety for workers, and people who ride elevators in the city and New York State, improve exponentially,” said Sen. Diane Savino, the Democratic sponsor of the bill. “The numbers of elevator incidents and workplace deaths is a national shame.”

Similar measures have been introduced since 2012, but this is the first time the bill has made it to the Senate floor, let alone secured approval from the legislative body. Senate Majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement that the bill was “ignored by the previous Senate Majority.”

If the Assembly passes the measure, New York’s licensing requirements would fall in line with the majority of the country. In 36 states and the District of Columbia, elevator mechanics are required by law to be licensed, which typically involves the completion of an accredited program that can run as long as five years.

In a January report, The Real Deal documented how the safety of elevators in the city had in recent years been compromised by poor enforcement of city safety standards, and malpractice by elevator contractors, many who do not have adequate training. Between 2010 and 2018, at least 22 people were killed in passenger elevators or shafts in the city, according to the DOB.There have been at least 500 incidents, 48 of which led to serious injuries. Mechanics, who aren’t technically required to undergo training, made up 12 of the 22 fatalities. TRD’s investigation found that lapses in safety and enforcement contributed to these incidents. Another report dove into the issues plaguing NYCHA’s elevators.

To obtain a mechanic’s license, under the requirements of the bill, workers must complete a union apprenticeship, or complete the National Association of Elevator Contractors’ Certified Elevator Technician program or other approved training programs.

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“There’s a path to this license for anyone working in the industry,” said Michael Halpin, of the International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 1.

Within the first year of the bill becoming law, mechanics can also apply for a license if they can demonstrate that they’ve worked on elevators for at least four years. The measure also requires mechanics to annually undergo eight hours of continuing education to renew their licenses. The state Department of Labor and the city’s Department of Buildings will be responsible for issuing, statewide and city-based licenses, respectively.

Until recently, the city has opposed state efforts to introduce licensing, but in a statement, spokesperson Raul Contreras said that the city supports the Senate’s bill “and will continue to work with the entire legislature to ensure we have every available tool to hold bad actors accountable.”

Real estate industry groups have long opposed previous legislation seeking to implement licensing requirements for mechanics, arguing that such measures represented an attempt by elevator unions to grow their market share.

“It’s better than it was,” Frank Ricci, director of government affairs for the Rent Stabilization Association, said of the latest bill. But he added that some of the bill’s requirements could be burdensome to small elevator companies, including increased supervision over mechanics by senior workers. “We want to make sure that the companies that service those buildings aren’t pushed out of business.”

The bill also creates a nine-member Elevator Safety and Standards Board, which will oversee the implementation and enforcement of the new training requirements. Under the legislation, the DOB must maintain a list of licensed mechanics, contractors and inspectors and make it available on the agency’s website. The DOB currently doesn’t have any record of the number of mechanics operating in the city.

The measure still awaits approval from the state Assembly. The legislative session ends June 19.