Occupational Licensing

New York Might License Elevator Mechanics to Solve a Public Safety Problem That Doesn't Exist

Those claiming that elevators are a public safety risk likely have ulterior motives.


Residents of New York City will take 35 million elevator rides today. That works out to an astronomical 12.77 billion elevator rides per year. An average of 2.75 of those rides end in a fatal accident. That's 404 times less likely than an ocean swimmer getting attacked by a shark.

Is that a problem that demands government action? Some lawmakers seem to think so. The State of New York is considering a bill to require licenses for elevator mechanics. Some recent elevator accidents, the legislation's authors argue, were caused by insufficiently trained mechanics.

In fact, there's good reason to doubt that New York has less safe elevators than the rest of the country or that requiring licenses would make them safer. The chief effect of those licenses would be to make it harder for New Yorkers to find jobs in that field.

Thirty-five states require licenses for workers in elevator repair or installation. There's not much empirical research comparing elevator safety on a state-by-state basis, but it's illuminating to compare elevator safety in license-free New York City to elevator safety across the country.

Nationally, there are 325 million elevator rides per day, or 118.625 billion rides per year—and there are roughly 27 elevator-related deaths a year, according to ConsumerWatch.com. That comes to .00000000023 deaths per elevator ride across the United States. 

In New York City, there are 35 million elevator rides per day, or 12.775 billion rides per year. According to The Real Deal, which covers New York real estate, the city has seen 22 confirmed deaths in elevator-related accidents since 2010, or an average of 2.75 elevator deaths per year. That comes to .000000000215 deaths per elevator ride in the Big Apple.

In other words, the death rate per elevator ride is actually a little lower in New York City than in the rest of the country. 

Meanwhile, stairs cause 1,600 deaths a year in the United States. By LiveScience.com's calculations, that makes them significantly more dangerous than taking the elevator.

Can government licensing make New York's elevators marginally safer? It's hard to tell for sure when you're working with numbers this tiny.

But this certainly seems like another instance where occupational licensing laws are being justified on flimsy public safety or consumer welfare grounds, even though many analyses of specific licenses have shown little connection between the existence or stringency of the license and public health, safety, or service quality.

Instead, licensing laws tend to enrich license holders, by protecting them from competition, at the expense of consumers, who pay higher prices, and at the expense of potential new workers, who face higher barriers to entry.

The most likely result of this bill, if it is passed, is to create new barriers to entry for workers looking to find a new job. They would have to pay a fee (licensing fees average $279 in New York), and they would have to either complete a certification program from an industry group, hold an out-of-state elevator mechanic license, or have four full years of experience in elevator maintenance, construction, or repair. Elevator mechanics make well above the average wage, and are a growing field; new fees and certification requirements will reduce the availability of a good middle-class job.

Occupational licensing laws currently on the books already place a significant burden on New York's economy. According to an analysis from the University of Minnesota economist Morris Kleiner, excessive licensing laws cost the state over 100,000 full-time jobs and almost $13.1 billion in economic growth. Instead of stacking on another licensing requirement, New York lawmakers should consider rolling back some of those existing regulations.

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  1. New York is so up and down on its freedom boot-stomping.

    If we could just get someone to lift up licensing schemes enough to see the cronyism underneath.

    1. Way to elevate the conversation.

    2. But that’d give the rest of us the shaft.

  2. That’s just weird. It’s not the mechanic that requires licensing, it’s the elevator itself. That’s where the safety is verified.

  3. Do those NYC elevator death stats include the deaths in Die Hard With A Vengeance?


  4. There is a bit of an elevator problem. It’s more about NYCHA not having them properly inspected.

  5. You seem to be missing half the story – it’s not just shitty mechanics, it’s shitty inspectors. And it’s the NYC Department of Buildings that’s failing to properly inspect the elevators. The real story is government proposing a new fix to a problem that government is responsible for creating.

  6. “That comes to .00000000023 deaths per elevator ride across the United States.”

    BUT WHAT IF THAT .00000000023 IS A CHILD!!!!!!???????

    1. Someone’s monocle will go unpolished. That’s the real tragedy.

  7. Licensing elevator mechanics will just mean fewer of them are available. This will cause backups in elevator maintenance, which will cause additional accidents, bringing NYC’s elevator fatality rate up to the national average.

    NYC will rightfully identify this as a problem, and mandate additional licensing to alleviate the problem.

  8. So they have an industry group that already has a cert program.

    This should be resolved by insurance companies giving lower rates to buildings that use mechanics with existing certifications and higher rates to justify the risk for those without certs.

    You deal with risk thorough insurance, not through licensing.

  9. Most of those deaths are not from the elevator breakdown itself, but people trying to ‘die-hard’ their way out of stuck elevators, and learning the hard way that they in fact die-all-too-easy.

  10. Across the country there is a shortage of elevator mechanics and installers as the older generation retires and there have been insufficient numbers of younger people entering that trade. It is a significant problem.

    Most of those are employed by a few very large companies Otis, Schindler, Kone and ThyssenKrupp. Most of them are also unionized, I’d expect in NYC pretty much 100% unionized. There are some smaller companies, mostly Asian subsidiaries of large companies from Japan and Korea but they are not as well known in the US. There are also some independent companies who hire mostly people trained by the bigger companies. The Independents do a lot of maintenance work but also some installations. In most places all elevator companies are licensed like plumbers and electricians. I’d be surprised it the companies providing maintenance services aren’t already licensed.

    In most places elevators are subject to periodic (usually annual) inspections. The Owners are usually required to maintain maintenance logs and perform periodic testing based on the national codes which the Inspector should verify.

    Consensus Codes for Elevator Installation and Maintenance are in place under ANSI/ASME A17{1-8). Those codes are effectively developed by the major manufacturers and the union, all you have to do is look at who is on the committees.

    Given the way the industry is organized it is difficult to see how an additional level of licensing is going to have much effect on safety given the level of safety that already exists.

    Finally while anyone can make a mistake that could lead to a fatal accident, poor maintenance usually shows up first in other problems.

  11. I’ve worked on elevators in Los Angeles since 1982 and have been a mechanic since ’85. The State of California started requiring licensing about 15 years ago or so. The City of LA since before I got into the trade. So I, as well as all Los Angeles mechanics, carry two certifications.
    I personally am not a fan of government involvement in our lives, unless absolutely necessary. I fought getting my state CCCM (Certified Competent Conveyance Mechanic), until people started loosing their jobs for not being licensed. I now believe California’s licensing program has had a positive effect on safety. I’ll explain my thoughts.
    Prior to mechanic licensing, a contractor holding a C-11 license (California Elevator Contractor’s License), could plausibly hire anyone off the street and call them a mechanic. Just from the safety aspect alone, this should not be allowed. If people had, even the smallest, perception of how dangerous elevators can potentially be, they should be demanding that all people working on the vertical transportation equipment they use be certified.
    For the skeptics who say it will widen the barrier for people who wish to enter a truly great trade, it depends on how New York plans to implement the program. The State of California as well as the City of Los Angeles only require mechanics to be licensed. To be a mechanic, you must serve as an apprentice for several years to be properly trained. To be an apprentice, you need nothing more than a high school diploma or GED and a little good luck.
    The purpose of government is to provide safety and infrastructure. On this one occasion, I believe the safety aspect may outweigh the government overreach.
    Anyone interested in joining the elevator industry apprenticeship program should visit this site: https://www.NEIEP.org It may change your life

    1. “If people had, even the smallest, perception of how dangerous elevators can potentially be…”

      How dangerous are they to passengers? I’m not trying to be argumentative but I would be interested to know how many deaths or injuries are directly attributable to elevator malfunctions where those malfunctions were caused by improper maintenance by unlicensed elevator mechanics . I’m not talking about deaths caused by people trying to “rescue” themselves from a stuck elevator or some unexplained control system malfunction (lack of explanation = no root cause = could not have been prevented).

  12. […] New York Might License Elevator Mechanics to Solve a Public Safety Problem That Doesn’t Exist […]

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