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Boiler backlog needs more attention

Posted: Monday, April 03, 2000

Issues raised in the article Boiler Backlog Remedy Explodes In Committee warrant more discussion.

Contrary to wanting to charge people for something we don't intend to do, House Bill 326 is actually an attempt to get the people we need to do the job we have to do.

House Bill 326 proposes to eliminate inspection fees in lieu of certificate of operation fees. This would set up a stable source of income for the boiler inspection program and reduce the program's reliance on general fund dollars. This method has been successful in other states that have the resources to inspect all vessels as they become due. The only difference is we are proposing to do this while hindered with an existing backlog of inspections. This is not an insurmountable problem, if the Legislature authorizes us to hire an additional inspector.

We are decreasing the overdue inspection count by a thousand pressure vessels, which includes boilers, per year. Unfortunately, new pressure vessels are coming on line at a rate that cancels out our progress. So far this fiscal year, we have accumulated in excess of 1,100 new vessels.

Owner/user and insurance company inspectors share the inspection load. They also share the load of inspecting the approximately 5,000 overdue pressure vessels, half of these being the responsibility of private companies. The Department of Labor has undertaken a vigorous program to particularly identify the out-of-service vessels carried on all three rosters: the states, insurance companies and owner/users. This has been ongoing for about three months and has eliminated about 1,000 vessels from the overdue status into the out-of-service (non-inspected) status.

The vessels that are the state's responsibility are on a staggered frequency of required inspections, most being two-year intervals. The total for the state projected through the next five years is roughly 15,000 vessels requiring inspection of 3,000 per year. With the addition of another inspector, we believe it is possible to eliminate the backlog and perform every scheduled inspection on time.

As the editorial that appeared in the Empire on Dec. 3, 1999, succinctly stated, ``This is one of those ticking time bombs. We'll just chicken-wire our way along until a disaster occurs. And then the finger pointing will start. Instead, we urge the Legislature to review the Labor Department's request to hire more inspectors to get this backlog down.''

The backlog problem still exists, and we're still short a boiler inspector. The Department of Labor is only asking for the tools we need to do our job - ensuring the safety of Alaskans - and to prevent disaster from happening. A steady source of funding through certificates of operation, paid for up front, is a logical step in that direction.

Dwight Perkins is the deputy commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.



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