Boston Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By MATT STOUT and JOE DWINELL — [email protected]­her­ald.com

El­e­va­tor rid­ers face a “se­vere risk” now that state pub­lic safety of­fi­cials have stopped re-in­spect­ing thou­sands of lifts in the Bay State that fail an­nual safety check­ups at a rate of one in five, ac­cord­ing to a na­tional watch­dog com­ment­ing on newly re­leased data.

The move, dis­closed in a re­port filed with law­mak­ers this week, comes as in­spec­tors are gird­ing for the state’s el­e­va­tor stock to bal­loon amid the Bay State’s con­struc­tion boom, with as many as 6,000 more lifts — a 14 per­cent spike — to come on­line by 2020.

The fixes, left unchecked, could get worse and leave it up to the el­e­va­tor own­ers to make sure they are re­paired be­cause state in­spec­tors are over­bur­dened.

“If you re­move the rein­spec­tions, you will have in­spec­tors look­ing at an el­e­va­tor once a year,” said Kevin J. Do­herty, a New York-based el­e­va­tor safety con­sul­tant. “It’s atro­cious. It’s pre­pos­ter­ous. It puts the safety of the rid­ing pub­lic in se­vere risk. It’s like the fox guard­ing the hen­house.”

Of the 42,000-plus el­e­va­tors in­spected by the state last year, more than 8,400 failed their an­nual checkup — a rate of one in five — with 500 of those be­ing shut down com­pletely.

The ma­jor­ity of those, roughly 7,700, re­quired what a leg­isla­tively cre­ated El­e­va­tor Study Com­mis­sion dubbed “rou­tine re­pairs” — ones that did not re­quire a per­mit but could in­clude re­plac­ing phone bat­ter­ies, re­pair­ing “door op­er­at­ing equip­ment” and clean­ing el­e­va­tor pits.

The con­trac­tors were in­stead is­sued 90-day tem­po­rary cer­tifi­cates and re-in­spected be­fore get­ting full clear­ance.

But with the state al­ready fac­ing a back­log of 2,000 el­e­va­tors await­ing their an­nual in­spec­tions, the com­mis­sion rec­om­mended that of­fi­cials stop re-in­spect­ing those in need of re­pairs that don’t re­quire per­mits. In­stead, of­fi­cials would or­der the el­e­va­tor own­ers to pro­vide a no­tice that any nec­es­sary fixes were made, a move the com­mis­sion es­ti­mated could free up of­fi­cials to do 6,000 more an­nual in­spec­tions each year.

While the com­mis­sion filed its find­ings only this week, the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety qui­etly im­ple­mented the change more than five months ago on March 7, ac­cord­ing to a foot­note in the 17-page re­port.

“What you’re try­ing to avoid there is a po­ten­tial of con­flict of in­ter­ests, to self-po­lice,” said Den­nis Ol­son, an el­e­va­tor ex­pert with Rob­son Foren­sic, adding he hopes the state puts le­gal con­se­quences in for those who fudge the no­tices. “The ap­proach is re­ly­ing on the in­tegrity of the el­e­va­tor con­trac­tor them­selves.”

Matt Car­lin, the state’s pub­lic safety com­mis­sioner — who also chaired the com­mis­sion — said the new prac­tice is re­served for re­pairs that “are not crit­i­cal to pub­lic safety,” adding that it was “not a good use of DPS re­sources to con­duct” re-in­spec­tions of them. He said the state will en­force the self-re­port­ing by per­form­ing au­dits and mak­ing ran­dom checks.

The changes mir­ror what four other New Eng­land states do. Maine still does re-in­spec­tions.

“The Com­mis­sion’s work was guided by a goal of pro­mot­ing changes that would re­sult in a more ef­fi­cient use of pub­lic re­sources and a high level of pub­lic safety,” Car­lin said in a state­ment.

Do­herty, who said mi­nor is­sues from dirty pits to ca­ble is­sues can be­come worse, said too much can go wrong with el­e­va­tors to let re-in­spec­tions go.

“Han­dling a build­ing boom is not a good ex­cuse to skip them,” he told the Her­ald. “New Jer­sey is try­ing to do the same thing. They also have all this work and they can’t han­dle it.

“In the end,” he added, “the rid­ing pub­lic will suf­fer.”

GO­ING UP? A newly re­leased re­port shows that Mas­sachusetts el­e­va­tors that fail in­spec­tion are not all be­ing re-in­spected on a timely ba­sis and that state in­spec­tors are over­bur­dened. This re­port comes dur­ing a Bay State build­ing boom that is likely to com­pound the prob­lem.

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