A new report by State Auditor Pat McCarthy has revealed that the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) is years behind on thousands of elevators, escalators and other lifts that require annual inspection.
While the audit attributes the problem to an insufficient number of inspectors, L&I has cited difficulty filling those jobs due to higher pay opportunities in the Seattle area.
Currently there are more than 18,000 conveyances that require annual inspection under Washington state law. However, the audit found that there are more than 9,500 that are at least a year delinquent on their annual inspections. Of that figure, 1,365 are a decade overdue for inspection.
The audit concludes that not enough inspectors are employed to conduct the needed inspections and recommends that the department hire the necessary workforce.
“By not conducting timely inspections, the Department risks allowing unsafe conveyances to remain in operation. The use of unsafe or defective conveyances increases the risk that employees or the public could suffer serious and preventable injury,” the audit states.
In its response, L&I concurred with the audit while noting that it has increased the number of positions from 21 to 27 since the 2013-15 biennium; however, the agency has had trouble filling those new spots. Also, 4,500 more inspections were conducted in the 2019 fiscal year than the previous year. In the 2018 calendar year, 8,766 elevators/escalators were inspected.
The state agency also noted it has begun implementing recommendations made by a 2016 Elevator Program Study, which found only 40 percent of conveyances were undergoing inspection. Like L&I, the report found that “a combination of factors, including a construction boom in Seattle and surrounding areas, inspector position vacancies, and lower salaries” made it harder to fill positions. While cities such as Seattle and Spokane employ their own elevator inspectors, the report noted that state inspectors’ workload was 35 percent higher due to “insufficient data and information” within the state’s system “to perform trend analysis on the number of inspections or corrections over time.”
Seattle currently has 19 elevator inspectors and a process to increase staffing when the workload exceeds 600 conveyances per inspector – the 2016 report found state inspectors had an average workload of 658.
The report included the following recommendations:
- Create a technical knowledge training program;
- Establish a formal rulemaking process;
- Improve education and outreach to permit holders; and
- Examine ways to improve inspector workload and reduce backlog.
To better attract workers, the agency has increased salaries to make them comparative to city inspector wages. L&I is also working on a replacement software system to better process permits and schedule inspections.