Lift users' lives being put at risk, says union

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 November, 2008, 12:00am

Safety concerns after elevator plunge at estate

People's lives are being put at risk because of fierce competition within the lift industry and insufficient regulation by the government, a workers' union said yesterday.

The warning came after reports of a serious accident in Tai Po's Fu Shin Estate, where a lift plunged 14 floors and crashed into the ground on October 25.

A check found that seven of the lift's eight suspension cables were broken, and the speed governor, lift car and counterweight were also damaged.

Deputy director of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department Stephen Chan Hung-cheung and chief engineer George Ling Kam-hoi visited the site yesterday, saying a thorough investigation into the incident would be completed within a month.

Mr Chan said a single cable could take 12 times the weight of a fully loaded lift and it was rare to see seven out of eight break. He said: 'We will send the cables to the lab. We hope to find out why they broke ... which could be due to many factors. It might have been strain or metal fatigue, or of poor quality.'

The accident, described by the government as 'a very rare case', has raised huge concerns over the safety of the 57,000 lifts and 7,000 escalators used across the city.

The Hong Kong General Union of Lift and Escalator Employees criticised the government for failing to regulate the industry properly and said lift maintenance providers are cutting their budgets significantly to win government contracts.

'The authority often invited bids for the [lift] maintenance work for more than one housing estate each time. The cheaper the price you offer, the more likely you're going to win the bid,' said Tse King-wa, chairman of the union.

Citing the Fu Shin Estate as an example, he said ThyssenKrupp Elevator Hong Kong took over maintenance work three months ago with an offer of only HK$1,380 a month to carry out checks on each lift. 'This is only one-third or one-fourth of the normal price,' Mr Tse said.

'In Hong Kong, the buildings are higher, the lifts are faster and more complicated, but the money spent on the maintenance work is dropping.'

He said at least half of the lift companies in the city assigned only one worker instead of a team for lift checks, and each check sometimes lasted only 30 to 40 minutes. The union called on the government to update the Lifts and Escalators Safety Ordinance by specifying more details over the service standards for lift companies. The union will also meet Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor tomorrow to discuss the issue.

Some Hongkongers, meanwhile, said they were willing to pay more on lift maintenance for a better guarantee of their safety.

Fu Shin Estate resident Wong Lai-ngor said: 'We can't save money on this [lift maintenance]. A lift is the lifeline of the whole building.'

A spokesman for the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department said only registered contractors could carry out lift maintenance and there had been no evidence of a decline in safety standards.