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Michigan is years behind on elevator, escalator, boiler inspections, auditor says

Detroit Free Press logo Detroit Free Press 10/27/2021 Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press
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LANSING — State officials are years behind on required inspections of some elevators, escalators and boilers, and even have waited years to do required follow-up inspections after deficiencies were found, creating "a potential safety risk to the public," according to an audit released Wednesday.

Auditor-General Douglas Ringler said the Bureau of Construction Codes within the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs "needs to improve its processes to ensure it completes elevating device inspections in a timely manner to help protect the public from device malfunction or failure."

The state is required to inspect thousands of passenger and freight elevators, escalators and other such devices. Many, if not most, passenger elevators also receive private inspections, often due to liability insurance requirements.

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Ringler's office reviewed inspection data for 40 elevating devices and found that 78% of the 74 routine inspections required between October 2018 and May 2020 had not been performed. The audit also found that 14 of the annual inspections were one to three years overdue, three were three to five years overdue, and one was more than five years overdue.

State officials are years behind on required inspections of some elevators, escalators and boilers. © Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press State officials are years behind on required inspections of some elevators, escalators and boilers.

Also, the agency had not established a monitoring process to ensure timely follow-up of violations identified once inspections were performed, the report said.

Of the 16 required follow-up inspections for the 40 devices, 62.5% took an average of 121 days to complete, including one violation classified as "high" priority — meaning it potentially resulted in the device being sealed out of service, the report said. More than half the devices had overdue required follow-up inspections for violations rated as "medium priority," including cables that needed repair, the report said.

In a response, LARA said it has had trouble recruiting and retaining elevator inspectors and is working with the skilled trades industry and the Michigan Civil Service Commission to try to change that. "Recruiting qualified elevator inspectors, along with other trades professionals, is a problem across state government and not unique to LARA," the agency said.

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But the audit said a shortage of staff is not the only identified problem.

The agency's "ability to conduct timely elevating device inspections may have been limited because of vacancies in approximately 40% of its 27 to 29 elevator inspector positions throughout the audit period," the report said.

"However, we also noted inconsistent managerial oversight of inspector activity, the absence of ongoing bureau-wide training, a decentralized scheduling system, and a lack of standardized inspection forms which may have contributed to the inefficiencies."

The agency said it is also improving, monitoring, reporting and training to address the other issues.

The auditor found the state is also behind on its required inspections of commercial boilers — the pressurized systems used to provide heating in buildings. Boilers burn fuel or use electricity to create hot water or steam.

The audit found that as of May 2020, the agency had not performed 12.7% of the 61,900 required routine inspections. More than 1,900 of the inspections were one to three years overdue, 285 were three to five years overdue and about 260 of the inspections were more than five years overdue, including 35 that were more than 10 years overdue, the report found.

Also, the agency had not conducted 96% of the 2,308 required follow-up inspections on boilers, with 47 of those inspections overdue by five years or more.

In another area, the auditor found inspection fees for carnival amusement rides and ski lifts have not been increased since 1982 and 1964, respectively, and taxpayers are subsidizing the cost of those inspections by hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

The nearly $70,000 in permit and inspection fees from carnival rides did not come close to meeting the nearly $400,000 in related costs, the audit said. For ski lifts, the state took in less than $15,000 in permits and fees but spent close to $400,000, the report said.

The state's costs do not include the cost of a supervisor over carnival and ski lift activities, because that position has been vacant since 2016, the auditor said.

The agency said in its response it "will continue to work with the Executive Office of the Governor, legislative partners, and stakeholders to pursue legislative improvements to establish a fee structure that sustains the program areas while supporting the health, safety and welfare of Michigan residents."

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4Read more on Michigan politics and sign up for our elections newsletter

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan is years behind on elevator, escalator, boiler inspections, auditor says

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