Spokane City Council members decided to send a message to state legislators about burdensome regulations by unanimously rejecting new, stricter elevator inspection rules.
The council voted Monday to reject the elevator and escalator safety standards even though council members acknowledged they did not understand the rules they were rejecting.
That will put Spokane’s elevator safety program in violation of state law when the inspection rules go into effect on Jan. 1.
The council vote surprised city administrators, who had requested that the city adopt new codes based on state standards.
By turning down safety standards developed in 2010, the council opted to stick with rules written in 2004 and 2005. The council also rejected new state guidelines that regulate how elevator maintenance companies keep track of the work and inspections they have completed.
Councilman Steve Salvatori proposed delaying the vote until the council could get further explanation of the new rules.
But Council President Ben Stuckart urged his colleagues to make a statement to state legislators about burdensome regulations.
“It’s not OK to just pass regulations,” Stuckart said in an interview. “Somebody needs to be paying attention over there.”
State law says cities that run their own elevator inspection programs must have regulations at least as strict as the state’s. The rules the City Council rejected were slightly more restrictive than the state’s. Spokane and Seattle are the only cities that have opted to run their own elevator programs. If the city does not enforce the state rules, it risks having its program taken over by the state.
Salvatori said the new rules would have added additional costs to businesses that have elevators. He added that businesses were not consulted about the potential costs and benefits.
But state officials say they’ve spent three years working with businesses and elevator maintenance companies to develop the regulations.
Jack Day, Washington’s chief elevator inspector, said the new rules won’t add much cost at all to the maintenance of most elevators, escalators and other conveyances.
The state’s study of the new rules determined that any new costs would be “insignificant and no more than minor costs to the affected businesses.”
Jim Hanley, co-owner of the Tin Roof on East Sprague Avenue, said that although he does not know the details of the new rules, he’s concerned what could be in them. Inspections of his two-story freight elevator from 1973 each year have become more stringent, he said. Hanley recently was required to replace piping for the hydraulic system that he said was working fine. He also had to move a light switch in the shaft because of a rule that prevents the placement of a light switch in a location where someone would have to bend to turn it on – out of concern that someone who bends is more likely to fall into the shaft.
He said he’s fine with stricter rules to protect the public, but some rules seem more about forcing elevator owners to pay for upgrades.
“It’s all piddly stuff,” he said.
But state officials say that in most cases, inspections should not be getting tougher for older elevators because most new standards are not retroactive. That means inspectors judge elevators and escalators based on the rules in place when they were installed.
One exception in new national elevator standards is a requirement to have a standard fire key to access elevators in the case of an emergency. The state rejected that requirement for older elevators but Spokane’s proposed rules included it.
“We determined that it would be unnecessary and costly to replace all of the fire key sets on old elevators,” said Dana Botka, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor and Industries.
The proposed new rules for Spokane were presented to the council as an “emergency ordinance,” which allowed the council to consider them a week earlier than what normally is required. Deputy Building Official Dan Skindzier, who is the city’s inspector supervisor, said his department sought quick approval to ensure the city would be compliant with state regulations. He said he should have begun the process earlier and provided council members and businesses with better briefings.
Skindzier said the city will use the old regulations until a new ordinance is submitted and approved by the council.
Day said the part of the new rules that appear to have caused the most concern are guidelines to standardize what elevator maintenance companies do to keep conveyances up to standard and how they keep track of the work.
State law requires state or city inspectors to check all elevators, escalators and other conveyances once a year. But both the state and Spokane program are behind.
State officials say that state and city inspections are not in-depth and rely, in large part, on the inspection of maintenance records. Day said the state has worked in the past several years to standardize records of elevator inspection companies so they are more easily understood and reviewed. Most maintenance companies now comply with the reporting requirements that will go into effect Jan. 1.
Salvatori questioned why new rules are needed on technology that is simpler than what it takes to run a car. He said it’s safer to take an elevator than the stairs.
But elevator and escalator malfunctions are not unheard of.
Late last year an escalator at Macy’s in Bellevue jammed, injuring seven as stairs began to snap off while the escalator kept running. Three emergency stop systems failed to work, according to an investigation from the state Department of Labor and Industries. It only stopped after a passer-by hit the emergency stop button.
The state later found 32 code violations, including 15 directly related to the incident. Among the violations, the store’s elevator inspection company, Schindler Elevator Corp., had skipped the escalator’s required annual safety inspection.
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