THERE IS NO good reason for inspectors to have delayed reporting safety problems discovered in furnaces and boilers at Baltimore City schools. Perhaps the inspectors thought they were doing the schools a favor by giving them time to correct the problems. But the possibility that a disabling, even fatal, accident could occur while they waited for repairs to be made should have been paramount.
Yet a Sun investigation has turned up at least 21 instances where serious safety violations at 16 schools over a two-year period were not reported to the state as required. The importance of state notification was made glaringly clear a year ago when a Hazelwood Elementary School first-grader was severely burned in a boiler accident that might have been averted had a faulty valve been reported.
Three weeks before the accident, a private inspector reported a faulty safety valve to school officials, but not to the state. The school system tried to correct the problem, but a contractor installed the wrong valve. A little girl was burned when pressure forced steam from a flushed toilet. State officials say had they been properly notified by the inspector they would have made sure the right valve was installed.
Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co. has handled boiler inspections for city schools since July 1994. Its attorney says inspectors work very hard to comply with state regulations. But something is wrong. A review by The Sun of school files from 1994 and 1995 indicated numerous missing inspections records as well as instances where inspectors noted faulty equipment but never reported it to the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which can order immediate repairs.
A former Hartford inspector says when he was with that company he was instructed not to worry about reporting problems involving simple repairs that could be fixed in a couple of weeks. The attitude suggests a coziness between the inspection company and the school system that hired it. This won't do when the safety of children is at stake. Perhaps, instead of being called in after private inspectors find a problem, state officials ought to handle all scheduled school boiler inspections as well.
Pub Date: 6/19/97