Hire certified boiler inspectors Require licenses: Memories of child scalded in Baltimore accident should not be ignored.

October 17, 1997

LAST YEAR, a 7-year-old child was severely burned at Baltimore's Hazelwood School by scalding water and steam spewed from the toilet she flushed. Yet state officials are treating the accident like ancient history. The Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation wants to weaken the hiring criteria for boiler inspectors -- though more thorough inspections are needed to prevent similar and worse accidents.

The flush of the toilet that left young Ashley Moore screaming may have saved hundreds of other children. Her action unwittingly released steam pressure that had been building in pipes to a faulty hot-water heater. Had it exploded, the blast could have been awesome. Six Oklahoma children and a teacher were killed in 1982 when a hot-water heater exploded.

The Baltimore accident could have been avoided. Routine maintenance had not occurred. Subsequent inspections of boilers and hot-water heaters at other city schools revealed over 40 with serious safety problems. The state provided emergency allocations to immediately replace two of the worst school boilers. Many others may be on their last legs.

Regular and extensive boiler inspections are critical. But because it has had trouble finding qualified inspectors, the state wants to accept applicants who lack national certification. State officials say the new inspectors could undergo more training after being hired.

That's unacceptable. One reason the state cannot find certified inspectors is the low pay it offers. The median salary for Maryland inspectors is $31,000, nearly 25 percent below the national average. Penny wise and pound foolish. It's not worth another child being burned.

Pub Date: 10/17/97

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