State Audit Finds False Elevator Inspections, Overlooked Safety Hazards
An audit by state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that annual elevator inspections by outside contracted companies need stronger oversight. The audit looked at work done by certified elevator inspectors who worked for companies contracted by the DOB. While the DOB has 48 staff inspectors (as of July 2017), it regularly uses private companies to perform the annual inspections required of the city’s 71,000 elevators. Auditors and DOB inspectors accompanied the non-DOB inspectors as they examined 12 elevators in nine buildings in the five boroughs. Among the findings in the state comptroller’s audit:
- Two of the non-DOB inspectors falsely certified that they had inspected 15 elevators in 14 buildings before they had actually performed the inspections (several of these were not in the audit sample).
- Violations were missed or overlooked in 11 of the 12 elevators in the sample.
- Three non-DOB inspectors failed to spot that a device that keeps doors from opening between floors was defective in elevators at three different buildings. The problem could cause elevator doors to open between floors and is considered an imminent hazard, which requires the elevator to be shut down for repair. A fourth non-DOB inspector did catch the problem at another building. However, he decided it wasn’t an imminent hazard and kept the elevator in service, saying his company’s policy didn’t require a shutdown. A DOB inspector later took the four elevators out of service.
- At four of the nine sampled buildings, non-DOB inspectors did not inspect the tops of elevator cars or the elevator pits, which are required by the city’s contract and are standards set by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. When asked why they didn’t inspect the roofs or the pits, the inspectors said they were concerned for their safety and that such inspections are prohibited by their companies. One of these inspectors, who also falsely signed off on inspections before they had been performed, was terminated for unprofessional behavior.
- DOB inspectors pointed out 29 violations that were overlooked by non-DOB inspectors, including a non-working emergency phone, an expired extinguisher in an elevator machine room, and missing maintenance schedules and records. In some cases, the violations were not identified because the non-DOB inspectors were using less strict procedures than the DOB’s own inspectors.
- Inspectors found hoist cables in two elevators in two different buildings that showed signs of wear, called rouging. The problem was missed at one building and noted at the other, but the non-DOB inspector didn’t have the right tool to measure the cable thickness, which would have determined the seriousness of the problem. The inspector was subsequently terminated by his company for unprofessionalism.
- 6,741 (11 percent) of the 63,314 annual elevator inspections the DOB required be completed by non-DOB inspectors in 2016 were not done.
- 8,807 (13 percent) of the 62,166 annual elevator inspections the DOB required be completed by non-DOB inspectors in 2015 were not done.
The audit recommended improvements to the inspection process, including:
- Reinforcing with elevator inspection companies the required procedures for proper elevator inspections and for identifying elevators that need to be taken out of service.
- Mandating that non-DOB inspectors comply with DOB procedures when performing elevator inspections.
- Ensuring that the DOB communicates upcoming inspections with building owners so they can gain access.
- Establishing specific deadlines by which building owners should respond to no-access inspection attempts.
- Using more forceful measures, including monetary penalties, against building owners when elevator tests are not performed.
DOB officials agreed with eight of the nine audit recommendations, and noted that they have already taken steps to implement changes to improve oversight of inspections.