LIFTS FAIL INSPECTION – AND MOST STAYING IN SERVICE, UNCHECKED
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.