Government adopts multi-pronged approach in ensuring lift safety

In response to the Ombudsman's direct investigation on the regulatory system of lifts by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD), a Development Bureau spokesman re-affirmed today (August 28) the utmost importance attached by Government to ensuring lift safety in Hong Kong.

"Following a series of lift incidents in late 2008, we have asked for a comprehensive review of the regulatory system of lifts and closely monitored the improvement measures being put in place by EMSD,” the spokesman said.

The Development Bureau and EMSD had reported progress to the Legislative Council Development Panel of such improvement work in December 2008 and February 2009. With the support of Legco, EMSD has put in place the various enhancement measures with additional resources provided by Development Bureau.

"Action is in hand to brief Legco Members on progress after the summer recess, particularly on proposals to amend the Lifts and Escalators (Safety) Ordinance to strengthen the statutory framework," the spokesman said.

These legislative proposals were the outcome of deliberations of two EMSD-led task forces comprising representatives from the Hong Kong General Union of Lift and Escalator Employees, the two local lift and escalator contractors associations, the Construction Workers Registration Authority, the Vocational Training Council, the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers and the International Association of Elevator Engineers (HK-China Branch) .

"The Secretary for Development has accepted the Task Forces' recommendations and will consult Legco and the industry on these legislative amendments," the spokesman said.

The main legislative proposals are –

1. To introduce a registration system for lift and escalator workers which will recognise the individual qualification and competency of workers. This will replace existing arrangements whereby 75% of about 5,000 serving competent workers under the law obtained their status through designation by registered lift and escalator contractors.

2. To upgrade the qualification requirement for registration as lift and escalator engineers by adopting the qualification of registered professional engineer ("RPE") of suitable disciplines with at least two years' relevant working experience as the prerequisite requirement for registration as lift and escalator engineers.

3. To raise the maximum fine for offences under the Ordinance from $5,000 to $200,000 to increase its deterrent effect.

4. To streamline the disciplinary process by empowering the Director of Electrical and Mechanical Services to take disciplinary action for relatively minor offences. The Director can also reprimand the persons/parties committing such offences.

5. To grant statutory powers to the Director to impose sanctions for failure of lift or escalator owner to comply with improvements specified in notices to rectify minor defects within the prescribed period. Currently, these improvement notices are advisory in nature.

6. To require the display in the lifts of a more prominent and user-friendly safety label in prescribed format duly signed by the registered engineer upon completion of the periodic examination and testing, confirming the installation is in safe working order, to raise public awareness.

"We believe the strengthened statutory regulation system would help enhance lift safety in Hong Kong and in promoting the principle of 'shared responsibility'," the spokesman said.

"That said, EMSD is firmly committed to discharging its roles in inspection and enforcement as well as in public education to enable user surveillance."

Since November 2008, EMSD has deployed eight additional staff to step up audit inspections from a sampling rate of 1 out of 10 to 1 out of 7, including performing surprise inspections with the aid of a web-base data system. Through the use of the data system and with the collaboration of the trade, lift examinations can be traced more effectively than before and overdue submissions of lift certificates have been greatly reduced – to 304 so far in 2009 compared to 18,660 last year. With immediate effect, EMSD will fully implement the issuing of Form 9 to urge owners to carry out lift examinations and submit the lift certificate on time.

To assist owners to procure lift maintenance services and monitor contractors' performance, EMSD updated the "Lift Owners' Guidebook" for distribution in April and provided sample tender specifications for owners' reference.

Since June 1, 2009, EMSD has required the industry to adopt a set of new practices to assure the quality of maintenance. These include requiring registered lift contractors to let lift owners or their building management agents know the number of hours which they plan to spent on routine maintenance per month. The number of prescribed maintenance activities requiring at least two workers has also been increased from two to ten.

From next month (September), EMSD will release information on the performance of the Registered Lift Contractors through the department's website. Such information is based on the new "Maintenance Performance Rating of Registered Lift Contractors" Scheme developed in consultation with the trade. This information should provide useful reference for lift owners.

"We welcome the Ombudsman's recommendations and will continue to work with EMSD to implement those recommendations in the Ombudsman's report. We will report further progress to Legco before the end of this year," the spokesman said.


Ends/Friday, August 28, 2009
Issued at HKT 19:59