Latest Hong Kong lift accident serves as cautious reminder
In a city of high-rises elevators and escalators are in constant use by the public, but mechanical safety should not be taken for granted
Few people would think twice before stepping onto an escalator or using a lift. This is, after all, part and parcel of urban living in our high-rise home. Although a countless number of rides are taking place at any one moment across the city and they do not seem to pose any problem, it does not mean that such mechanical devices are all foolproof, as we were reminded on Sunday by a terrifying accident in Tsuen Wan, which must be thoroughly investigated by the authorities.
A couple living in a 46-storey block of flats were seriously injured after the lift they were in suddenly lost control and smashed into the top floor.
An initial investigation suggested that a lack of traction between the pulley and suspension cables, or a braking malfunction may have been to blame. Although the problem was described as rare by government officials, the public is justifiably concerned about whether it might have been more than an isolated incident.
The lift in question was manufactured 27 years ago by a South Korean company that is no longer in business and those in the industry say maintenance and repairs have become more difficult as a result. About 300 lifts of the same make are currently in use across the city, and the government reacted correctly and promptly by ordering emergency safety inspections.
Adding to concerns are the performance of the contractor and the maintenance mechanism. The lift in question had passed its annual test in January, with the company responsible reportedly given a top grade by the government for its performance. However, the firm was also involved in a fatal accident in February, when a technician was crushed while repairing a lift on a public housing estate. It seems that the performance appraisal by the government is no guarantee of safety.
Our urban infrastructure has been so well developed that we tend to assume everything will function without problems. The truth is that even the most sophisticated hardware needs regular maintenance and repair. The occurrence of serious lift and escalator accidents from time to time in our city is a reminder that mechanical safety cannot be taken for granted.