Safety gets the shaft: More than 1 in 5 elevators in state lack inspection

At least one in every five elevators in Massachusetts, or more than 8,500, have not had their yearly safety inspections as required by law, a Herald review found — and one state watchdog says even those figures may be low-balling the problem.

 

State officials had inspected just 79 percent of the roughly 41,000 elevators across the commonwealth as of March, their most recent available records, according to Department of Public Safety data obtained by the Herald. That means state officials had failed to inspect roughly 8,600 elevators for safety.

 

State Auditor Suzanne Bump — who clashed with the public safety department in November after an audit showed more than 14,200 elevators had expired inspection certificates — questioned the accuracy of the data released yesterday.

 

“Our audit found that, in addition to backlogs in inspections, DPS’s record keeping database was inaccurate,” Bump said in a statement to the Herald. She pointed out that in dozens of elevators her investigators checked, more than half had certificates with different information than the public safety department’s database.

 

“While we certainly hope their inspection rate is improving,” Bump said, “we don’t know if these recent reports are accurate.”

State officials say they have sought to hire more elevator inspectors, but as of yesterday, they had just 55.

 

That’s one more than they had last May, when a woman was seriously injured after she fell down a Fenway Park elevator shaft after a Red Sox game.

 

This year’s budget allowed the department to boost its roster to as high as 70 inspectors, using an additional $2.8 million — paid for through inspection fees — for the hires, according to an analysis last year by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

 

Elevator companies have to pay a $400 fee to the state for each elevator that is inspected. They also face daily fines if they allow a certificate to lapse without alerting officials.

 

One Boston elevator company owner, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation from state officials, expressed concern about the backlog.

 

“All I can tell you, it hasn’t changed much,” the owner said. “There’s a lot of little things that are broken in the system. And you have no recourse. You start calling in, you’re yelling and screaming, ‘I need this elevator inspected.’ Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t.”

 

At the time of the Fenway Park accident last May, Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Gatzunis told the Herald the system that allows the Boston Fire Department to take control of an elevator in an emergency failed a Feb. 7, 2014, inspection because its doors did not stay open when a special key firefighters carry was removed.

 

The elevator — which was not inspected at all in 2013 — was due to be checked again last May to see if repairs were completed, but state officials postponed the inspection to last June due to a manpower shortage.

 

Gatzunis and two independent experts said at the time the fire safety issue would not have had anything to do with the accident.

 

Spokesman Felix Browne defended the public safety department’s progress on inspections, noting that in August 2013 the inspection rate was just 65 percent, and in March 2014, it was only 69 percent.

 

He also said a “fair number” in the current backlog are “in the scheduling process to be 
inspected.”

 

Browne said officials plan to hire seven more inspectors “to further accelerate the substantial increases in inspection rates that have been made over the past 18 months.”

 

He also brushed off Bump’s comments, saying, “The department is very confident in the numbers it keeps and can back them up.”

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