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LCQ21: Safety of escalators

Following is a question by the Dr Hon Chiang Lai-wan and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Eric Ma, in the Legislative Council today (May 10):
 
Question:
 
On March 25 of this year, an upward moving escalator with a vertical rise of 21 metres in the shopping mall at Langham Place in Mong Kok suddenly reversed direction, causing injuries to 18 people. The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) subsequently indicated that it would conduct an in-depth investigation into the reasons why the drive chain of the escalator involved had broken and its auxiliary brake had not been triggered. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
 
(1) of the latest progress of the follow-up actions taken by the EMSD on the aforesaid incident;

(2) among the reports of escalator incidents received by the EMSD in each of the past five years, of the respective numbers of cases involving escalators with (i) a vertical rise of 15m or above, (ii) more than 10 years of service, and (iii) design defects;

(3) of the number of escalator inspections conducted by the EMSD staff in each of the past five years; among such inspections, the respective numbers of those conducted for the following reasons: (i) complaints had been received, (ii) accidents had occurred to the escalators recently, (iii) escalators had been in service for more than 10 years, and (iv) performance of the maintenance contractors concerned had been unsatisfactory; the respective numbers of cases in the past five years in which escalator maintenance contractors or their staff were penalised by the EMSD for contravening the Code of Practice, and those in which they were convicted by the court for breaking the law, together with the details of such cases; and

(4) whether the EMSD will step up the monitoring of the maintenance of escalators (in particular escalators with a vertical rise of 15m or above) undertaken by contractors to safeguard public safety; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
  
Reply:
 
President,
 
The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) attaches great importance to the safety of lifts and escalators. It has been strived to enforce the Lifts and Escalators Ordinance (Cap. 618) (the Ordinance) to ensure the provision of safe lift/escalator services to the public. The Ordinance, which replaced the repealed Lifts and Escalators (Safety) Ordinance (Cap. 327) (the repealed Ordinance), has come into full operation since December 17, 2012 and introduced a series of new and enhanced control measures. They include setting out the duties of responsible persons (i.e. owners of lifts/escalators and any other person who has the management or control of the lifts/escalators), registered contractors, registered engineers and registered workers.
 
My reply to the question of the Dr Hon Chiang Lai-wan is as follows:
 
(1) The EMSD is very concerned about the escalator incident at Langham Place and is conducting an in-depth investigation into the incident. The investigation will seek to ascertain, inter alia, whether the incident is related to the maintenance work for the escalator. In case there is evidence indicating that the contractor or concerned parties has/have contravened the Ordinance, the EMSD will take prosecution action. A detailed investigation report will be completed by the end of May 2017.
 
After the incident, the EMSD has implemented the following measures to safeguard escalator safety:
 
* Registered escalator contractors (RECs) were required to conduct special inspections for all the 64 escalators with vertical rise of 15 metres or above in Hong Kong. These inspections were completed by March 31, 2017. All escalators were confirmed to be in safe working conditions. No anomaly was found during these inspections;
 
* The manufacturer of the escalator involved in the incident, i.e. OTIS Elevator Company (H.K.) Limited, was required on April 3, 2017 to inspect all its escalators in Hong Kong within one month. On completion of these inspections by April 29, 2017, the drive chain of one escalator was found elongated and slightly exceeding the manufacturer's recommended replacement criterion. The subject escalator resumed normal operation after replacement of the drive chain and checking;
 
* A circular letter was issued to all the RECs and registered escalator engineers in Hong Kong, urging them to follow the manufacturers' instructions in respect of inspection, adjustment and tests of drive chains and broken drive chain safety devices of escalators during their periodic maintenance and examination of escalators to ensure that these devices are in good working conditions; and
 
* Spot checks on the maintenance works of RECs in Hong Kong were stepped up.
 
(2) As the incident involved mechanical failure, the following reply also focuses on the relevant areas.
 
In the past five years, there was no escalator incident that was caused by equipment failure of escalators with vertical rise of 15 metres or above. Neither was there any escalator incident that involved equipment failure caused by defective design. The cases of equipment failure in escalators of over 10 years old or above accounted for less than 0.5 per cent of the total number of escalator incidents. The other causes involved passenger behaviour and external factors, such as tiny metallic objects being wedged into the space between the step and combplate, thereby triggering safety devices that stopped the escalator.
 
The numbers of escalator incidents reported to the EMSD in the past five years are set out below:
   


 
2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Total number of escalator incidents 1 538 1 416 1 639 1 590 1 624
No. of incidents involving equipment failure Escalators with vertical rise of 15 metres or above 0 0 0 0 0
Escalators of 10 years or above 6 2 0 7 3
Escalators with defective designs 0 0 0 0 0
 

(3) In the past five years, the EMSD has followed a risk-based approach and considered various factors in conducting about 1 300 to 1 500 spot checks on escalators each year. About 900 to 1 200 of these inspections were conducted on escalators that were under complaints, involved in incidents, in service for longer years and/or under the maintenance of RECs with poor track record.
 
During the said period, the EMSD has issued eight summonses to RECs and registered persons under the repealed Ordinance and the Ordinance. Among them, six summonses involved a REC who failed to ensure that the safety equipment of the escalators was in working order and interfered with their operation as well as a registered escalator engineer who failed to report the examination results timely to the Director of Electrical and Mechanical Services and made a false statement on the Safety Certificate. They were convicted and fined by the Court.
 
The Disciplinary Board has not held any hearing for RECs or registered persons in the past five years.
 
(4) According to the Ordinance, RECs shall conduct periodic maintenance for escalators at an interval not exceeding one month. Besides, registered escalator engineers shall carry out periodic examination for escalators at an interval not exceeding six months to prepare for renewal of the use permits issued by the EMSD.

The EMSD has also published a Code of Practice for Lift Works and Escalator Works (Works Code) to provide guidelines on lift works and escalator works, including examination, maintenance and repair of lifts/escalators. The Works Code specifies, in particular, the items to be inspected and made good during periodic maintenance and in accordance to the schedule recommended by the lift/escalator manufacturers. The Works Code also specifies the items that require regular and thorough examination by registered lift/escalator engineer in order to ascertain that the lifts/escalators are in safe working order.
 
Following the escalator incident at Langham Place, the EMSD will issue maintenance guidelines for escalators with vertical rise of 15 metres or above to the corresponding responsible persons and RECs. Given their high carrying capacities and, hence, higher risk of serious incidents, the EMSD will step up inspections of these escalators.

Recently, the public has expressed grave concerns about the manpower in the lift/escalator trade as well as the reasonable time required for and quality of maintenance works. To address the public concerns and to step up control, the EMSD issued a circular again in April 2017 to urge registered lift/escalator contractors to allow sufficient time for their workers to carry out maintenance works properly and to keep records on the day-to-day work undertaken by their staff properly as well. The circular also requires the registered lift/escalator contractors to report in the specified form with justifications weekly to the EMSD, when a working team (assuming a team of two persons) is assigned to undertake maintenance works for over six lifts/escalators in one day, on instances of multiple assignments. The reporting requirement on "maintenance of over six lifts/escalators in one day" is established by the EMSD with a view to setting a reference benchmark for the trade. The registered lift/escalator contractor would be required to furnish further information when the EMSD conducts investigations in cases of complaints or incidents.
 

Ends/Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:15

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