Report: Cleveland Elevator Inspections Lagging

CLEVELAND (AP) - The city has fallen months and sometimes years behind schedule in its inspections of thousands of elevators and wheelchair lifts, a newspaper reported Saturday.

Seventy-nine percent of the city's 3,800 active elevators have not been inspected since 2005, violating Cleveland's law that calls for annual safety checks, according to a (Cleveland) Plain Dealer analysis of the city's inspection database from March.

Hundreds of elevators and lifts went unchecked for as long as five years, The Plain Dealer said. Inspectors found violations in nearly one of three elevators that were checked, the newspaper said.

Norman Martin, the state's chief elevator inspector, said public safety is compromised when inspections lapse.

"Inspections are designed to uncover operational flaws," he said.

State law requires elevators to be checked twice a year and wheelchair lifts once a year by state inspectors. Cleveland uses its home-rule power to set its own standards and do its own inspections. The city budgets for five elevator inspectors and a chief elevator inspector.

A wheelchair lift that the newspaper said was more than six months overdue for an inspection by the city was cited by the Cuyahoga County coroner in the death of an 84-year-old Parma woman May 7. Jeanne von Sternberg died of head injuries and complications the coroner attributed to her fall from the lift at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ on April 29.

A report filed with the city by the Cleveland church states that the lift abruptly stopped, lurched and tipped, "causing Jeanne to fall off the unit onto the floor."

Edward Rybka, the city's building and housing director, would not say whether he believes the missed city inspection might have contributed to von Sternberg's death. The city says it inspected the lift at the church July 2.

Councilman Joseph Cimperman said letting elevator inspections lapse is not acceptable.

"There is no two ways about it," he said. "We have to find a way to do a good job and make sure elevators are inspected on time."

Rybka said the city's elevator inspection rate is misleading because a new computer system has led to poor record keeping.

While the city's inspection database shows Cuyahoga County Board of Elections elevators haven't been inspected by the city in five years, Rybka posses paper records indicating that the elevators were inspected last year.

The process for entering data in the system is cumbersome, and the city's technology department is trying to make improvements, Rybka said.

The computer system will eventually issue alerts when inspections come due.

"There are going to be hiccups of implementing a fully automated system," Rybka said.