After mother's death on China-made escalator, safety standards must be enhanced

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 July, 2015, 1:22am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 July, 2015, 1:22am

The horrific death of a mother in the machinery of a mainland escalator after she had pushed her two-year-old son to safety is a reminder of the danger to life and limb if safety regimes do not keep up with rapid urban development. It is not so long since the safety of mainland-made products from toys to baby-milk formula to food was the bane of the made-in-China image. So badly did it rattle the authorities that Beijing threw its full weight behind a drive to lift standards.

But that does not reckon with public safety issues raised by intense urbanisation and the greatest migration to cities the world has ever seen. Escalators and lifts are a case in point. At the end of last year China had more than 3.6 million in service, most installed since 2003, the number increasing by 20 per cent or 700,000 this year. Without the enforcement of matching efforts to ensure safe standards of manufacture and installation, it was only a matter of time before a tragic accident happened.

Xiang Liujuan, 30, was killed when a footplate at the top of the escalator in a Jingzhou mall, fixed only with screws that had come loose, collapsed as she stepped on it. Surveillance video shared on social media showed her lifting her son to safety as she fell into a gap under the escalator. Another video is said to show that two female mall employees who discovered the loose footplate minutes earlier apparently tried to warn Xiang. It is not clear why the escalator was not stopped immediately.

A Hong Kong expert on escalator safety has questioned the design of the escalator if it needed screws to fasten the footplate. The Hubei government has suspended escalators made by the company that produced the malfunctioning machine. And the special equipment bureau of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine has ordered quality watchdogs at local levels to examine the safety of escalators. That cannot bring back a wife and mother killed on a family shopping expedition. But if it leads to the drafting of prescriptive installation standards that are regularly inspected and enforceable, it could save others.