Lifts are indispensable to a city such as ours, crowded with high-rise buildings. When we step into a lift - whether in an office tower, a residential block, or shopping mall - we move up and down within seconds, usually without any safety problems. The accident in which a lift carrying seven people plunged down an old building in North Point on Saturday reminds us that we should not take this convenience for granted. An 82-year-old man is still in a critical condition.
Establishing what went wrong is just the first step. More importantly, the authorities have to ensure it will not happen again. Officials described the accident as rare in that all four cables broke, while the braking device that was supposed to work in case of emergency also failed. An initial probe found that the cables had rusted and appeared to be thinner than required.
If a government appraisal system of lift companies is any reference, it appears that Shineford Engineering, which is responsible for the faulty lift and 248 others around town, does not have a glowing record. Ranked the eighth-worst in a list of 36 registered contractors, the company's performance was graded "disappointing" after two of its lifts were reported to have equipment failure. Government engineers were even temporarily trapped inside a lift when they rushed to inspect others managed by the company on Sunday. Another eight lifts managed by the company have been suspended so far.
There appears to be room for improvement to the current monitoring mechanism. It does not help if poor performers are allowed to operate until tragedies happen. Building managers also have a role to play. They should exercise vigilance to ensure their lift contractor has a good service record.
The low accident rate means our lifts are still, by and large, safe to use. But mechanical failures do happen. The North Point accident is a sad reminder that the safety of mechanical devices should not be taken for granted. Officials and building managers should do a better job to protect public safety.