State elevator inspection program poised to tackle backlog

Labor department says lawmakers’ support key to turning the corner

 UPDATED 6:30 PM HST Mar 08, 2013
HONOLULU -

Many of the state's 7,000 elevators are behind on inspections.

The problem came to a head last year. One elevator company manager remembers the nightmare well.

"There was a lot of elderly in the building. There was one elevator. We had to wait two months to do a two-hour inspection," said Bert Yorita of Mitsubishi Elevators.

Now, he said the wait is cut to a week.

Lawmakers appropriated additional funding last year to hire 10 additional staff and to boost salaries to help retain the new hires.

During a legislative briefing, members of the private sector expressed gratitude that a long overdue overhaul of an understaffed program is getting underway.

The state’s labor director, a former lawmaker, said the support is really helping to make a significant change.

"What used to be a state program paid for by general funds was transformed into a self suffient system based on a collection of fees," said Labor director Dwight Takamine.

The fees had not been raised in 13 years.

But still even with the added inspectors, he admits it could take three years before the state can get that backlog of 5,000 inspections down to a more manageable level.

“It didn't materialize overnight, and it may take us a bit of time before we can tackle that backlog that really jeopardized public safety," said Takamine. But the department assured lawmakers it has the foundation to finally move up.

Now, the state is looking at overhauling its elevator code. The safety standards have not changed since 1996.

"We have been under a severe handicap of trying to work under this antiquated code to bring elevators up to current day safety standards," said Jim Whitmore of Elevator Consultants.

 If you live in a high rise, the new codes will likely cost building owners

Particularly those in older, and smaller structures.

It's similar to installing sprinklers in the units. The cost of that is horrendous and there has to be a balance between what buildings can afford and safety,” added Michael Chung of Elevator Consultants.

The state is working with private industry leaders in determining what areas of the code may be grandfathered in and what needs to be upgraded.

It hopes to get the new standards ready for public hearing later this year.

Do you want to print this page now?