Ngong Ping 360

Lift-plunge incident must not be repeated

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 November, 2008, 12:00am

Lifts are a convenience we take for granted in a city such as ours. Thankfully, the government does not, however: it has in place laws that require regular checks and maintenance of the more than 47,000 elevators that are a necessity for high-rise living and working. Ensuring the rules are strictly adhered to is essential to prevent tragedies like that 15 years ago, when 12 construction workers were killed in Hong Kong's worst industrial accident. The 14-floor plunge of a Tai Po public housing estate lift is, for this reason, a grave matter that has to be thoroughly investigated.

Safety of lifts is without doubt taken seriously by authorities, contractors and inspectors. Although tens of millions of elevator journeys are taken each year, there are on average only a dozen or so accidents reported involving injury. Deaths are rare. But the casualty figure may have risen had the woman travelling in the Tai Po lift 11 days ago not been quick-witted. She got out when she heard unusual noises; shortly after, the car plunged to the ground.

Officials from the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department have rightly launched an investigation and promised a prompt report. There are a number of questions that need to be answered. Why the lift's cables snapped despite the frequent checks regulations require is foremost. Whether the cause is linked to the estate management's recent decision to change the contractor carrying out maintenance from the manufacturer has to be thoroughly looked into. We also wonder why it took so long for the accident to become public knowledge.

The incident brings back memories of the plunge to the ground of one of the Ngong Ping 360 cable cars in June last year. Lifts are like cable cars - even if there is no one in them, they are not meant to fall. The government treated that matter with the utmost concern and the Australian management company was replaced. There should be as much effort put into the inquiry into the lift failure. Confidence has to be restored and this can come about only through transparency and ensuring that the testing and maintenance system is strengthened so that there can be no repeat.