Elected officials in Annapolis were under intense pressure from the Elevator Industry Work Preservation Fund, and Allsafe Elevator Inspections, the state’s largest inspection company, to deliver on election year legislation (House Bill 1107 – Public Safety – Elevator Inspections – Testing and Apprenticeship Program) which would return Maryland to a labor-intensive and expensive inspection procedure that was repealed after it nearly broke Maryland’s elevator inspection infrastructure a decade ago. The entry of Allsafe Elevator Inspections coupled with a change in position by the Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation, which supported the bill for its privatization provisions, tilted the balance of debate on a bill that died in its House and Senate Committees in 2017.
In 2009 Maryland’s elevator inspection program was overloaded, plagued by a backlog of more than 6,100 uninspected elevators. The backlog represented 29% of the units in service at that time and state auditors reported that more than 1,300 units were more than a year overdue for inspection, 150 had not been inspected in more than 3 years. To head off risks from deferred maintenance and reverse the growing number of uninspected elevators, the current inspection procedure was adopted. Under the current procedure an independent third-party inspector visits the site after the work of the mechanic is completed to operate the machinery, “verify” that the elevator is working properly, certify the equipment meets code results and complete the annual inspection. The efficient process quickly stabilized the system, increased safety by reducing the backlog of uninspected elevators and reestablished accountability all of which will likely be undone by HB 1107.
Through HB 1107 Allsafe and the mechanics union sought the requirement that a licensed third-party elevator inspector “witness”, from start to finish, the annual maintenance and tests performed by licensed elevator mechanics. In addition, five-year tests, now witnessed and inspected at no charge by state inspectors, would be delegated to private inspectors as would all inspection on more than 4,400 publicly owned elevators. The changes would increase the workload on private inspectors and almost certainly return Maryland to the era of inspection backlogs because there are fewer inspectors (64) and more elevators today (24,000) than in 2009. State inspectors estimate the bill would require certification of 82 new third-party elevator inspectors in the next two years.
The House and Senate committees were heavily influenced by testimony from the president of Allsafe Elevator Inspections who asserted that backlogs will not be an issue because inspectors will comfortably complete four inspections per day using the procedure required by the bill and that costs would increase by only $125 per elevator. Records of current costs and daily pace under the less-time consuming current inspection procedure, contradict these statements.
The Allsafe, Union partnership raises serious concerns about conflicts of interest and should remind NAIOP members why licensing accreditation requires that third-party inspectors remain independent and that they adhere to a strict code of ethics to be honest and impartial and to serve the public, their employers and clients with fidelity. The result of the bill not only benefits the proponents financially, it will combine the annual test and inspection functions, eliminating the check and balance provided by the separate, and independent inspection and code certification.
As passed, the bill implements a three-stage change starting with privatization of 5-year elevator inspections on October 1, 2018. The annual inspections of publicly owned elevators will be privatized and changed to witnessing on October 1, 2019 and the annual tests on privately owned elevators will be witnessed beginning on October 1, 2020. In deference to concerns about the lack of inspectors, the assembly made two changes to the bill; creation of a third-party elevator inspector apprentice program and added a provision requiring that the Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation report to the General Assembly prior to the change in inspection procedure for the 19,000 privately owned elevators scheduled for October 1, 2020.