Measure aims to ensure boiler safety Bill was crafted after girl was burned in city school

March 19, 1998|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

In response to a 1996 boiler accident that severely burned a Baltimore elementary pupil and helped reveal widespread safety problems in the schools, state regulators yesterday endorsed legislation that would tighten safety requirements and step up state oversight.

"I don't know if this could have prevented the accident or not," said Assistant Secretary John P. O'Connor, of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, at a hearing in Annapolis yesterday. "But we believe that these protections are critical."

The legislation, sponsored by Anne Arundel Democrat Del. Michael E. Busch, was crafted from recommendations by state auditors and a review panel after the accident, which burned a 7-year-old girl at Hazelwood Elementary School.

The incident occurred on June 18, 1996, after the school's hot-water system overheated, creating a dangerous buildup of heat and pressure. When first-grader Ashley Moore flushed a toilet, the pressure was released in an eruption of scalding water and steam that left her with second- and third-degree burns over most of her body.

State investigators later learned that maintenance workers attempted to correct safety problems with the system in the weeks before the accident, but never reported the hazardous conditions to the state, as they should have.

A subsequent review of 42 city schools revealed that none of 109 pieces of equipment inspected passed state inspection.

The proposed legislation would require:

Workers to notify the state before beginning certain types of repairs, including anything affecting the working pressure or safety of a boiler system.

Private inspectors to renew their licenses every two years so the state can keep better track of their qualifications and continuing education. Current law requires no renewal unless the inspector changes employers.

Owners to take responsibility for ensuring that equipment is operated, maintained and repaired adequately.

Higher standards of oversight for boiler systems in hospitals, schools and nursing homes statewide.

Better maintenance of inspection and repair records.

The legislation drew no opposition at yesterday's hearing before the House Economic Matters Committee, which Busch chairs.

Auditors last year called for the state to more closely monitor the work of private insurance company inspectors, who oversee 70 percent of the 51,000 boilers in Maryland public buildings.

In reports in June, The Sun identified numerous instances of "double-booking," in which private inspectors filed two sets of reports: one detailing problems, which went to schools; and the other attesting to the safe condition of the equipment, which went to the state.

In at least 21 instances in 1994 and 1995 companies failed to report serious safety violations to the state.

Pub Date: 3/19/98

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