Surprising issue with elevator checks

Top News | Carine Chow 14 May 2021

Surprise spot checks on aging lifts and escalators by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department are anything but - and so do not have a deterrent effect, the Ombudsman says.

The Ombudsman launched an investigation on the regulatory regime for lifts and escalators in April 2020 and found that it was usual practice for the EMSD to give contractors a heads-up before surprise inspections. The department said this was necessary to confirm the schedule with the registered contractor.

Among the 1,400 monthly inspections carried out by the EMSD between November 2019 and December 2020, only 3.6 percent of them were surprise checks, Ombudsman Winnie Chiu said.

"This arrangement will undermine the deterrent effect of inspections and the EMSD should increase the ratio of surprise inspections," Chiu said.

She added the department focused more on inspecting newly installed lifts and escalators in general and seldom on the routine maintenance work on older facilities.

Hong Kong has about 70,000 lifts and 10,000 escalators, with 34 percent of them in use for over 30 years. Over 4,000 lifts and escalators are more than 51 years old.

The probe found that the EMSD's guidelines for modernizing lifts and escalators were ineffective as only about 18 percent of aged lifts and 7.5 percent of aged escalators had undergone retrofitting works by end-2020.

The lift problems were uncovered several years ago following accidents, including one involving the escalator at Langham Place. Eighteen shoppers were injured in the popular Mong Kok shopping mall on March 25, 2017, as an ascending escalator moving up from the fourth floor to the eighth floor rapidly ran backward.

Three serious accidents involving lifts and escalators - aged between 14 and 27 years - happened in 2017 and 2018.

In May 2018, a woman died after falling into the lift shaft in Paris Court of Sheung Shui Town Centre. A couple were severely injured when the lift shot up and hit the top floor of the 46-story Waterside Plaza in Tsuen Wan in April the same year.

The Ombudsman also said the EMSD was "very passive" in monitoring maintenance work beyond the maximum number.

Currently, registered contractors need to explain to the EMSD if their registered workers have carried out maintenance work for more than six lifts or escalators in one day. As of the third quarter of 2019, the department received 1,023 reports from contractors about excessive maintenance per month.

The EMSD explained that it would approve some of the excessive maintenance if the work involved was relatively simple or when the facilities were close to each other.

"For better monitoring, the EMSD should instead request prior notice of those 'maintenance work beyond the maximum number' cases, and establish clearer criteria and guidelines for the department to follow up on those cases," Chiu said.

The watchdog suggested that the EMSD improve the existing checklist for site inspections to set out items and tests to be covered in various inspections and that the department encourage owners to modernize their lifts and escalators in a timely manner.

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