Magistrate wants bigger fines for lift safety breaches

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 January, 2011, 12:00am

A magistrate yesterday called for an increase in the maximum penalty for breaches of lift safety regulations.

Principal Magistrate Andrew Ma Hon-cheung made the call after fining Otis Elevator Company HK$4,000 in Sha Tin Court for failing to carry out proper checks and maintenance on a lift in Heng On Estate, Ma On Shan.

Ma said he was surprised that the lifts and escalators (safety) ordinance provided for only a maximum penalty of HK$5,000 and imprisonment of six months when the safety of those inside lifts was paramount.

He also fined registered engineer Joseph Ng Siu-man, 59, HK$2,000.

In January 2009, one of the lift's four steel cables broke, trapping five people inside for more than 20 minutes, 20 floors above ground.

It sparked concern across the city, especially about lifts in public estates.

Although no one was injured, the government immediately inspected the 1,448 lifts in public estates under the Tenants Purchase Scheme in an attempt to prevent more mishaps.

The court heard that Otis had the largest market share in Hong Kong. This was its first conviction in 120 years of operation in the city.

Ma expressed shock on finding out the heavy workload of lift technicians. During the trial, a technician told the court he was responsible for inspecting 30 lifts and six escalators in a month. He worked an average of 11 hours a day and sometimes worked 18 hours.

Ma said the company should be fully responsible for reducing the workload of its staff so they would have enough time to do proper inspections.

Im Kit-hung, vice-chairman of the General Union of Lift and Escalator Employees, said: 'A worker has to inspect more than four lifts a day. There simply isn't enough time.'

Im, a veteran lift repair man, said workers were exploited. 'A worker with 10 years' experience receives a monthly salary of only HK$8,000 to HK$9,000. The trade cannot attract new blood.'

The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department is considering putting in place a licensing system for all 5,000 frontline elevator workers.

The department is reviewing the ordinance, including increasing the maximum penalty to HK$200,000 and one year's imprisonment.

Amendments are expected to go to the Legislative Council later this year.