Maine Tramway Board Seeks Lift Mechanic Licensing

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SAM Magazine-Augusta, Maine, July 19, 2011-The Maine Elevator and Tramway Safety Board has voted to recommend that the state legislature create licensing standards for ski lift mechanics in the wake of the lift deropement last winter at Sugarloaf USA, in which eight people were injured. The licensing proposal, if acted upon by the legislature, would be the first in the nation to require licensing of lift mechanics.

The board, in its investigation of the deropement, found no single cause. But it noted that a second-year mechanic tried to improperly adjust the sheave alignment just prior to the incident, and suggested that both maintenance and training failures contributed to the deropement.

The board did not take any action against Sugarloaf for the incident, but the chief safety inspector, John Burpee, criticized the lack of training and quality control at Sugarloaf and at Maine resorts generally. He also termed the existing regime of inspections, typically conducted by inspectors hired by insurance companies, as insufficient.

"I'm a little disappointed with what we're finding for quality assurance programs" at Maine ski areas, Burpee told the Portland Press Herald.

Burpee said he plans to increase oversight of lift inspections, but said hiring a staff of state inspectors was unrealistic. And while he favors increased training for lift mechanics, he stopped short of endorsing the call for licensing. There is no guarantee that would improve lift safety, he indicated.

The tramway board previously recommended lift mechanic licensing in 2003, and one board member made a personal appeal for the same in 2007, but the legislature never turned those calls into law.

Legislators with oversight of tramway safety said they would welcome a discussion aimed at improving lift safety, as did Ski Maine executive director Greg Sweetser. All remained noncommittal about the licensing proposal, but agreed that public safety is the top priority.

"Safety is the number-one focus for all of us in the Maine ski industry," Sweetser said. "When a lift accident involving our guests occurs, there is a renewed sense of focus within our operations to ensure that we continue to maintain our exemplary record of safe lift operations. Ski Maine Association and its members will continue to work in partnership with the Maine Tramway Board to ensure that Maine ski areas offer the safest experience possible when riding any of our lifts."