Nearly 5,000 elevators, escalators and lifts in North Carolina are past due for their annual safety inspections, according to information WRAL Investigates obtained through a public records request. Nearly 2,000 of those are in Wake County alone. The backlog is so great that, while at the Department of Labor in downtown Raleigh for an interview with its commissioner, the WRAL Investigates team noticed the elevator there had not been inspected since February of last year.
“I take all of it personal. We’re going to continue to do everything we can to keep North Carolinians safe when they step on an elevator,” Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson said.
From July 2022 to July 2023, Department of Labor records show there were 20 incidents on escalators, lifts or elevators.
At Fayetteville State University, a passenger got stuck, and an incident report notes the elevator phone wasn’t working.
In another case, in Harrisburg, an elevator wasn’t level when it stopped. That caused a woman who was 30 weeks pregnant to fall onto her “knee, hands and belly.”
And in Charlotte, an elevator dropped two floors – causing foot injuries for the passenger.
Two of the 12 incidents occurred at the Raleigh Convention Center in March and May of this year. In both cases, the elevators were past due for inspection. In one case, a $250 fine was incurred.
In most of the 20 incidents, the elevators were up-to-date on inspections. That includes a June 30 accident in which Annie Wilbert died while working at Smithfield Grain in Wilson. The DOL report notes that she fell 75 feet, and that the “lift operating brake did not work correctly.”
Wilbert’s husband of 38 years, Curtis Wilbert, said he worries what could happen on devices that are overdue for inspection, given what happened on one that had been inspected seven months prior.
“If they have a problem in the elevators, they need to fix them, Wilbert said. “She’s gone, but other people need to use the elevators.”
Wilbert said he and his wife both served our country in the Armed Forces. Especially considering her years of service, he believes his family is owed a full explanation of what happened, which he says they have not yet received.
“I want the truth of what happened,” he said. “I feel we are owed the truth.”
Labor Commissioner Dobson said the backlog in inspections is a combination of the rapid development in the state, and being under-staffed.
“We are allotted 39 [inspector] positions, and we’re 10 short right now,” he said. “And that’s for roughly 22,000 elevators and we add over 1,000 elevators every year due to the growth of our state.”.
Dobson, who is not running for re-election, said his team is working through the inspections as quickly as possible. He has implemented retention bonuses and paid family leave in an effort to make the positions more attractive. And while he said there’s no “silver bullet” on what can help fill vacancies, he believes more funding from the state, to boost pay, would help.
“There’s no substitute for money,” Dobson said. “I want to fight for the employees at the North Carolina Department of Labor and that will allow us to recruit and retain the best and the brightest when it comes to elevator inspections in our state.”