Hong Kong courts

Repairman ‘swamped’ with work did not maintain faulty escalator in Hong Kong shopping mall accident, court hears

The repairman, 58, admitted he did not regularly maintain the escalator at Langham Place and was fined HK$6,000

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 7:06pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 10:19pm

A repairman might have been so “swamped” with other urgent work that he did not conduct regular maintenance checks on an escalator, leading to an accident that left 18 people injured at Langham Place in Mong Kok earlier this year, a Hong Kong court heard on Friday.

The lawyer for repairman Lo Kwok-lam said this to the Kowloon City Court during the 58-year-old’s mitigation plea.

Lo admitted he failed to ensure that escalator works were carried out properly, a contravention of the Lifts and Escalators Ordinance. He was fined HK$6,000.

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The accident took place on March 25, when a 45-metre escalator linking the 4th and 8th floors of the popular shopping centre malfunctioned and suddenly moved in the reverse direction when about 120 people were using it.

Video footage from bystanders showed some people screaming and tumbling down the escalator, while others grabbed the handrail and managed to steady themselves.

An auxiliary braking system to stop the steps from going in the opposite direction did not kick in. It turned out that one of the springs was either locked or had malfunctioned.

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Lo was a registered escalator worker stationed at the mall by his employer Otis Elevator Company (HK), which has pleaded not guilty to four counts of the same charge while another registered worker Ma Siu-lung has also denied charges relating to the accident.

According to maintenance records, the court heard that there were four occasions when Lo conducted maintenance work on the escalator in the two months before the accident, with the most recent check being done two days before it. Lo stood by the records and claimed he checked the escalator in accordance with criteria listed on a maintenance form.

But after viewing closed circuit television footage provided to the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD), its experts concluded Lo was not at the escalator at the times stated in the maintenance records.

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Lo’s lawyer Philip Chan Chi-fai told Magistrate Leung Ka-kie on Friday: “There might have been emergencies that he had to deal with [on those days].”

Although Lo was not able to recall this given the amount of time that had passed, Chan said his client, for example, might have been summoned to look at other escalators which were out of order on those days, as he was the only registered worker at the mall from 8:30am to 9pm every day.

He pointed out that there was only a small window of time, from 8:30am to 11am every day, for the defendant to carry out maintenance work before business began in earnest at the mall.

The 15-level shopping centre has nearly 200 merchants and attracts more than 200,000 visitors each day.

Chan asked the magistrate to consider Lo’s workload, and noted that his repairman’s licence had been suspended pending further assessment by EMSD.

Leung highlighted the fact that users were injured before she gave Lo a fine that was more than half the maximum fine of HK$10,000 prescribed for the offence.

Prosecutors said Lo had not checked all the escalator parts that he should have, including the chain and the system, according to the code of practice for lift works and escalator works.