Inspection blitz after falling gate crushes cleaner to death

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 May, 2009, 12:00am

A cleaner was crushed to death when a security gate fell on her at the entrance of a government hostel for the mentally handicapped in Hung Hom yesterday.

The gate had been found to have problems five months ago and was to have been replaced this month.

The death of Mabel Lim Tjhung Bwee, 42, a Chinese-Indonesian, prompted the Social Welfare Department to launch a citywide inspection of the doors at all its facilities and units. The department said it was saddened and shocked and promised to conduct a thorough probe with related government bodies.

Lim was entering Hang Ngai Manufacturing and Hostel in Hung Ling Street when the accident happened at 7.20am. 'When she pulled to open the gate, it came loose and collapsed on to her, hitting her head,' a police spokeswoman said.

Lim was declared dead at Queen Elizabeth Hospital at 8.33am.

Lim leaves behind husband Lau Chi-keung, 52, a self-employed worker who installs roller shutters, and four children aged between six and 21.

Mr Lau said the government should take responsibility. 'They found the gate had problems but did not take action for such a long period. It's unacceptable.'

He said he would demand a full explanation. He also questioned why a hostel and sheltered workshop for the mentally handicapped needed such a strong and heavy metal gate. There is a metal-framed glass door behind the gate.

The Social Welfare Department confirmed there had been repairs of the gate in the past and that it ordered a new one in December.

Lai Fung Po-kun, social welfare officer of the Kowloon City and Yau Tsim Mong districts, said the gate had not been operating smoothly and the related departments had promised to change it in the middle of this month. Asked why the department needed five months to install a new one, Ms Lai said: 'It needed related departments to check and inspect. This is not an area in which I can make the decisions.'

Lo Kok-keung of Polytechnic University's mechanical engineering department estimated that the gate weighed at least 90kg. 'The axis at the vertical hinge is about 15mm thick. It is not strong enough to support such a heavy gate. The thickness of the axis should be doubled to 30mm.'

A spokesman for the Architectural Services Department said the gate was fixed in December. 'It was heavier than normal gates and could not be opened smoothly.'

He said the gate had been designed and installed by a private developer before the centre was handed over to the Social Welfare Department in 2002.

Legislator Cheung Kwok-che, who represents the welfare sector, said the department should have taken precautions before the gate was replaced. 'They should have tried to stabilise it ... or put a sign on or near the gate to remind people working or walking near that area to be careful.'

Lim had been a contract worker with Po Leung Kuk's Shek Kip Mei occupational service centre since last June.