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Crime in Hong Kong

Lift firm Otis fined HK$320,000 over Hong Kong mall escalator accident that injured 18

Company, which pleaded guilty to four summonses, could have discovered safety issues with escalator three months before malfunction, court told

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 March, 2018, 8:11pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 4:30am

Otis Elevator Company (HK) was fined HK$320,000 (US$40,800) on Friday after it accepted responsibility for an escalator accident that injured 18 people in one of Hong Kong’s busiest shopping malls last year.

Kowloon City Magistrates’ Court heard that the company could have discovered safety issues with the escalator at Langham Place in Mong Kok three months before a malfunction on March 25.

At the time of the accident, 120 people were going up the 45-metre escalator when it stopped suddenly and reversed at high speed, sending dozens tumbling down. Of the 18 hurt, three were hospitalised with one man needing 21 stitches for a scalp wound.

A woman required two weeks of psychological treatment for the trauma she suffered.

In the city’s first such prosecution, a representative of Otis pleaded guilty to four summonses of failing to ensure maintenance work had been carried out properly. Each summons was punishable by a HK$100,000 fine and 12 months’ imprisonment.

Defence counsel Nicholas Lau Yiu-kan said Otis had since inspected all of its escalators in the city and improved its system of supervision.

“Otis will ensure claimants receive reasonable compensation,” Lau told Deputy Magistrate Vennie Chiu Wai-yee.

The US-based company had three previous convictions over 130 years in the city, none of them similar to the present case. A company spokesman said after the hearing: “This serious incident has deepened our commitment to the safety of riders and service excellence.”

An investigation by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department found the incident was caused by a rare double failure of the main drive chain and another monitoring device. The dual faults, which according to the department were unprecedented in Hong Kong, led to the inactivation of an auxiliary brake that should have stopped the escalator.

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The escalator reversed at high speed when the glitch occurred, causing dozens of shoppers to fall over each other and land at the bottom.

Independent expert and academic Lawrence Wu Chi-man noted that the main drive chain’s link plates had fractured due to metal fatigue, and was of the opinion it could have been discovered three months before the accident.

Maintenance records showed the company’s registered escalator worker, Lo Kwok-lam, had carried out work most recently on February 9 and 23, as well as on March 9 and 23. But closed circuit television footage revealed that he was not at the escalator at the times stated.

Prosecutor Joes Fung Bo-yee said Otis had failed – without reasonable excuse – to ensure that Lo would carry out regular maintenance as required by government guidelines.

Escalator was going ‘twice as fast’: witnesses describe accident at mall

The magistrate concluded: “Otis was responsible for supervision but did not do so thoroughly.”

The same court fined Lo HK$6,000 after he admitted to the same charge at an earlier hearing.

Lau said Otis had since started keeping inspection records that would allow supervision audits, and to increase its sampling checks from once a year to once every three months.

The company’s registered escalator engineer, Ma Siu-lun, who pleaded not guilty to similar charges, will return to the same court for a pretrial review on May 18.

The department welcomed the court’s judgment and said it would continue a disciplinary inquiry into the company.