Hong Kong’s long escalators to get annual checks ... but will cost taxpayers seven times more

Comment by authorities follows report on Langham Place incident where 18 shoppers were hurt in a malfunction

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 June, 2017, 1:50pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 June, 2017, 10:19pm

Long escalators in Hong Kong will be ­inspected annually in the wake of an accident that left 18 injured, but taxpayers face a far bigger bill.

Alfred Sit Wing-hang, deputy director of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, said on Saturday that the checks would account for seven times more resources than present, “but we will try to make it happen”.

His comments followed the release of an investigative report by the department on Friday into the accident at Langham Place.

In March, a 45-metre-long escalator at the popular Mong Kok mall suddenly reversed at high speed, causing people to crash into each other and fall.

“The accident at Langham Place gave us an opportunity for reflection,” Sit told RTHK.

He said the last time the escalator was inspected by the department was in 2011.

According to current practice, it carries out random inspections at one out of seven escalators annually to ensure contractors follow safety rules.

This is on top of the monthly maintenance required by law, which is carried out by contractors brought in by developers. They must also conduct a thorough check every six months.

There are 64 more escalators in the city longer than 15 metres, and Sit said the government would struggle to cover security inspections if more were built.

After the Mong Kok accident, the department examined more than 39 long escalators and found no problems, he said.

Two workers at Otis Elevator Company have had their licences suspended while the government launches a criminal investigation into the case.

The pair were responsible for carrying out periodic examinations and maintenance on the Langham Place escalator, according to the investigative report.

Investigators blamed the accident on a “rare” simultaneous malfunction. The main drive chain of the escalator was broken at the time due to metal fatigue, and the device that monitored its operation contained sticky grease formed from lubricant and dust. One of the two compression springs in the device was also found to be locked.

The accumulation of grease and the locked spring led to the failure of the device to activate the auxiliary brake to stop the escalator, the department said. The escalator then reversed downwards due to the weight of passengers.