Boiler safety policies faulted Audit finds monitoring of private inspectors by state inadequate

March 20, 1997|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Prompted by a water heater accident that severely burned a 7-year-old girl at a Baltimore elementary school in June, state auditors have identified significant deficiencies in the way Maryland safeguards boiler and hot-water systems in public buildings.

Statewide, 70 percent of such systems are inspected by private, state-licensed contractors who are employed by insurance companies, but Maryland rarely checks on the quality of their work, the auditors concluded.

In addition, the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation does not adequately monitor the qualifications of private inspectors, the auditors concluded.

When the state's own inspectors methodically reviewed all Baltimore school boilers after the accident at Hazelwood Elementary School, they found code violations on every piece of equipment and other problems requiring an estimated $2 million in repairs and replacements.

The audit revealed conditions "that we consider to be a significant deficiency," the auditors wrote to the Joint Budget and Audit Committee of the General Assembly.

Anthony J. Verdecchia, who headed the review, would not discuss the report. The Sun obtained a draft version of it yesterday.

"We've issued it in draft form to [the labor department], and we're waiting until we get their response," he said. "I really can't speak to it until the report is issued publicly."

The review also found that:

Safety inspections were overdue for about 10 percent of the systems. In 1,700 instances, inspections were delayed for four months or longer.

Equipment remained uninspected for one to 43 years because the state was never notified when the equipment was installed.

Few steps were taken to ensure that violations were corrected in a timely manner and that follow-up inspections were performed.

Among 10 other states surveyed, auditors found seven that routinely performed backup inspections of insurance company reviews. They recommended that Maryland begin similar reviews.

The state's eight boiler inspectors are responsible for inspecting about 15,400 of the 51,000 boilers.

"I think we have staff adequate to inspect the boilers we're required to inspect," said Karen Napolitano of the labor department. At one point last year, it required the entire state inspection team to go over the work done by the insurance inspectors. Napolitano said it was not clear what kind of changes would be required to routinely re-inspect equipment.

"Most of their recommendations are for performance improvements, and many would require legislative or regulatory change," she said.

A licensed inspector in Maryland must pass an examination by the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors, Napolitano said.

"Very few" injury accidents involving boilers occur, about one a year, she said.

Auditors expanded their review of the department after a first-grader was burned by scalding water and steam that erupted from a flushing toilet at Hazelwood Elementary June 18.

The school's water heater had never been inspected, as is required by law, and some of its safety features were defective, according to state boiler inspectors who examined it. When those safety features failed, hot water entered the school's cold water lines.

A subsequent inspection of boilers at all city schools, which was requested by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, was conducted by the state and the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co. of Connecticut, whose employees were responsible for inspecting the equipment.

Much of the equipment has been repaired.

Pub Date: 3/20/97

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