Going up: State elevator inspection backlog list

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By Sam Doran

State House News Service

BOSTON - Days past the deadline for new safety inspections, State House elevators continue ascending and descending with expired safety certificates, despite the fact that elevator inspectors are trumpeting an "all-time high" compliance rate for elevators across the state.

The News Service on Friday reviewed the building's 10 functioning passenger elevators and found all displayed safety certificates that expired on Oct. 31.

New inspections were not ordered for all the elevators before the day the current certificates expired. Inspections were requested for some elevators on Oct. 31 - elevators 1, 2, 7, 8, and 10 - while inspections for the building's other units were requested Oct. 17, according to a spokesman for the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM). The Department of Public Safety is "working with the contractor [Delta Beckwith Elevator Co.] to schedule inspections for those units requiring it," he wrote.

A building remains in compliance if the new inspections are requested prior to expiration, Department of Public Safety spokesman Felix Browne told the News Service. In the case of some State House elevators, that was a requirement met by a matter of hours.

Testing "should begin fairly soon," Browne wrote on Friday.

The existing certificates, still posted on cab walls, were issued on various dates from Oct. 2, 2015 (elevators 5 and 6) to Nov. 15, 2015 (elevator 2). Elevators 3 and 4 are presently out of service due to an upgrade project.

"If a certificate has expired," according to state law (chapter 65, section 143), "no new certificate shall be issued until a new inspection has been completed and no elevator shall be operated until a new certificate has been issued by a qualified state inspector."

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INSPECTION BACKLOG GOING UP

A heavy backlog has long weighed down state elevator inspectors. The backlog of units awaiting inspection rose by 180 in the last year - from 1,426 in 2015 to 1,606 in 2016. A June 2016 elevator division report adjusted this year's numbers by removing "decommissioned and shut down" elevators from the mix, which resulted in a 93.3 percent compliance rate for elevators across the Bay State. "That's an all-time high" in compliance, according to Browne.

The Legislature this summer enacted a chief recommendation of the state Elevator Study Commission aimed at alleviating the backlog. The inspection interval for "limited use elevators" like wheelchair lifts and dumbwaiters was lengthened from annual to biennial in provisions sewn into the fiscal 2017 budget.

The study commission estimated this move will free up "7,700 additional inspector hours, or nearly 2,000 inspections" to put toward elevators that are "most frequently used by the general riding public." The commission report pegged the current backlog at around 2,000 elevators awaiting inspection.

For now, that might even out the workload. However, the commission estimated that by 2020 the number of passenger elevators in Massachusetts will climb by 6,000 units - or around 14 percent - spurred by the state's "economic and construction boom."

"As the DPS further reduces the backlog they plan to direct some of the staff freed up by that to inspect elevators at new building projects," Browne wrote. "Currently, the department is not experiencing any delays handling the load of inspecting new elevators as they come online."

There are currently more than 28,000 registered passenger elevators in the state, around 1,000 dumbwaiters, and around 5,300 wheelchair lifts.

The Elevator Study Commission, established by a provision in the fiscal 2015 budget, included Department of Public Safety Commissioner Matt Carlin whose signature authorizes elevator safety certificates.

Acting on another recommendation of the report, lawmakers also inserted language into the fiscal 2017 budget lowering some fines for elevator owners who fail to request a new inspection. Gov. Baker vetoed those sections, stating in part that lower fines would reduce "elevator owners' incentives to have their elevators inspected on a regular basis" along with lowering inspection revenues by around 30 percent.


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