Flaws revealed by escalator accident at Hong Kong mall
Mong Kok incident, in which shoppers were injured, shows the need for greater punishments when statutory requirements are flaunted
Hong Kong’s urban infrastructure has been so well developed that we tend to assume that all mechanical and electrical installations will work without danger or threats to public safety. But a dramatic escalator accident in a busy Mong Kok shopping mall in March proved otherwise. Nine months have passed but some key questions remain unanswered.
The deterrence concerning safety breaches is one. This was reflected in the relatively lenient penalty imposed on a repairman in connection with the Langham Place incident. The 58-year-old mechanic was fined only HK$6,000 for failing to ensure work was carried out properly under the Lifts and Escalators Ordinance.
It looks even more disproportional considering the scale of the injuries. At least three people were admitted to hospital, one of whom received stitches to a head wound while another had 15 stitches for leg injuries. They were among dozens who tumbled and piled up at the bottom of the 45-metre escalator when it suddenly stopped going up and slid back at a high speed. Punishment had already been meted out with regard to injuries, but a maximum fine of just HK$10,000 for the prescribed offence is hardly a deterrent.
More disturbingly, the case seemingly involves broader manpower and compliance issues. The court heard that the repairman was the only qualified person servicing the 47 escalators at Langham Place, because the apprentice he was with was not supposed to do work on his own. Records claimed the escalator concerned had been checked at least four times in previous weeks; but surveillance camera footage showed this was not the case.
The revelation is worrying. If top shopping malls cannot live up to the standards expected of them, one has to wonder how other premises handle statutory requirements. Indeed, some labour unions have admitted that non-compliance is not uncommon in the industry, citing manpower shortages as the main reason. The prevalence of lifts and escalators in our city makes supervision and maintenance all the more important. We trust the government is well aware of the need to improve the system.