State details barriers to eradicating elevator inspection backlog
NORTHAMPTON — State public safety officials say they face many barriers to eliminating the elevator inspection backlog, from staff turnover and more new units to inspect each year, to a down economy that has some elevator owners deferring maintenance, which causes more time-consuming inspections.
In western Massachusetts, the state doubled its elevator inspectors from three to six when the state Department of Public Safety received a $1.5 million boost in funding two years ago. However, two of those workers went on extended leave and another left the job, vacancies that have contributed to the area’s persistent inspection backlog, according to state officials. Five inspectors are now covering elevators west of Worcester.
“We have a fairly high turnover with elevator inspectors,” said Thomas G. Gatzunis, commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety, noting that inspectors can make double the money doing similar work in the private sector.
In addition, the state’s DPS and Board of Elevator Regulations became responsible for overseeing the installation, maintenance, repair and inspection of what are known as vertical reciprocating conveyors. These devices, which number in the hundreds, move materials and equipment in places like factories, warehouses and distribution centers. The conveyors add to hundreds of other new elevators that come on line each year with new construction in the state.
State Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, who helped secure the money for more inspectors two year ago, said the number of new units and vertical reciprocating conveyors added to the state’s inspection workload is “clearly creating a problem.”
But, he added, “They (public safety officials) really should have thought a little bit more about that.”
Gatzunis also said state inspectors are becoming better educated and identifying more problems with elevators during inspections, which typically take place with elevator maintenance companies and their owners present. This has led to more temporary inspection certificates being issued after non-life-threatening problems are found. Inspectors must return, often within 90 days, to re-inspect these elevators, which draws away resources from other inspections.
“We have seen a marked increase in the number of blue cards being issued,” Gatzunis said. “There are a lot more items being caught.”
One the reasons for that is owners putting off maintenance in the down economy. It is an elevator owner’s responsibility to ensure their elevators are inspected. If they file paperwork for inspections six months late or more, the state tacks on another $200 to the $400 annual inspection fee.
While the state has made only small inroads into the elevator inspection backlog, Gatzunis said the additional money provided for more inspectors has helped the state’s inspection services programs bring in an additional $4.5 million in revenues.
In terms of accountability, Rosenberg said that when the legislators approved more money for elevator inspectors, which remains in a retained earnings account solely to fund the new positions, it also asked for a detailed analysis to show how state public safety officials planned to eradicate the statewide backlog.
“They’ve submitted some reports that don’t go to that depth,” Rosenberg said. “They haven’t to date given us a comprehensive view as to what we need to do to make our system as efficient and productive as possible.”
Rosenberg said he urged the state Department of Public Safety this week to craft such a report so that everyone can understand what the problems are and what the options are for fixing them.
“I think the solutions are at hand, but I think we need to pick up the pace about being clear about what needs to change and getting to it and letting people know about it,” he said.
Gatzunis said he believes the state’s elevator inspection program plays an important public safety role and that Massachusetts is very fortunate there have not been a lot of serious injuries or accidents.
“It’s not perfect, but I do believe that the annual inspection requirements are a major factor as to why we don’t have serious fatalities and accidents,” he said.
He noted that the state still has work to do on its permitting database and that changes are being considered to the inspection program so that elevator reviews are not tied to a specific expiration date, but rather have color-coded monthly inspection certificates, much like motor vehicle inspection stickers.
“It’s more for the visibility of when that unit expires,” he said.