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LC Urgent Q1: Escalator incidents

Following is a question by the Hon Ip Kwok-him and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (July 13):

Question:

An incident of an escalator suddenly revering direction occurred at Beijing Zoo Station of Beijing Metro Line 4 on July 5 this year, resulting in one death and 13 injuries, and on July 7 this year, an incident of an escalator of the same model and produced by the same manufacturer emitting smoke occurred at Mei Foo MTR Station. It has been reported that escalators of this model were involved in several serious accidents in Shenzhen and Beijing respectively over the past seven months, causing a total of one death and 55 injuries.  The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) of the People's Republic of China has requested that escalators of this model all over the country be immediately suspended from use for inspection on the ground that they have design defects. At present, a total of 78 escalators of the same model are currently installed at Mei Foo, Mong Kok, Tsim Sha Tsui, Shau Kei Wan, Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau, Sheung Shui, Kowloon Tong, Austin and Hung Hom Stations, which are all MTR stations with high passenger flows, and the above incidents have aroused public concern about the safety of escalators. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of reports on incidents received by the Government over the past year involving escalators of the same model which were produced by the same manufacturer involved in the aforesaid incident in Beijing, and among the reports, the number of those which involved improper maintenance or design defects; and

(b) given that AQSIQ has pointed out that the escalator model involved in the incident has design defects, and requested that escalators of this model all over the country be immediately suspended from use for inspection, whether the Government will immediately suspend the use of those escalators in Hong Kong which are of the same model and were produced by the same manufacturer involved in the incident; if it will not, of the reasons for that; whether the Government has enquired with the mainland authorities concerned about the design defects of this model of escalator in order to take follow-up action?

Reply:

President,

At present, lifts and escalators in Hong Kong are regulated by the Lifts and Escalators (Safety) Ordinance (Cap. 327) (the Ordinance).  To ensure that only escalators of proper design, good quality and in compliance with the design code and relevant requirements will be used in Hong Kong, the Ordinance requires prior written approval from the Director of Electrical and Mechanical Services (the Director) for the brand, model and main safety components of the proposed escalator before they may be installed in Hong Kong. In addition, only a registered escalator contractor may be engaged in the installation project. The installation works must also be carried out by qualified persons under the Ordinance. After completion of the installation works, the escalator must further be certified to be in safe working order by a registered escalator engineer and approved by the Director before it is allowed to commence operation. The Ordinance also requires an escalator owner to engage a registered escalator contractor to undertake regular maintenance work, and a registered escalator engineer to carry out periodic examination as well as to certify that the escalator is still in safe working order.

Under the current regulatory system, most of the escalator incidents were not caused by equipment fault.  However, to further enhance control over lifts and escalators, we introduced the Lifts and Escalators Bill to the Legislative Council in May this year to further strengthen the regulation for ensuring public safety.

My reply to the two parts of the question is given below:

(a) Over the past year, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) received only one equipment fault report that involved an escalator of the same manufacturer and model as the escalator in the Beijing Zoo Station incident occurring on July 5. The incident happened on July 7 at MTR's Mei Foo Station.  Initial findings revealed that the incident was due to failure on the part of the auxiliary brake system leading to overheating caused by friction. The MTR Corporation has immediately arranged its contractor to carry out repair works. EMSD will probe into the cause of the incident. According to EMSD's previous investigation findings, equipment faults of escalators were mainly due to damaged escalator handrail belts or escalator steps. No flaw in escalator design was detected.

(b) We understand that, after the Beijing Zoo Station incident on July 5, relevant Mainland authorities have required ceasing of the operation of all escalators of the same model for thorough examination to ensure that no escalators with hidden defects are allowed to operate. Of the 80 escalators of that same model currently operating in Hong Kong, 78 are installed within the MTR arena. The remaining two are installed at a footbridge at Fortress Hill and a subway at Middle Road respectively. Managing the repair and maintenance of these two escalators, which are government properties, comes under the purview of EMSD.

Immediately on the very day of the accident (i.e. July 5), EMSD has required the MTR Corporation and its contractor to examine all its escalators of the same model. The examination was completed on July 8 and the result confirmed that all the escalators examined, including all immovable parts and driving host machines, were in normal operation. EMSD has also deployed staff to conduct random checks on the examination work and did not find any nonconformity with the safety standards.  Separately, examination of the two government- owned escalators of the same model was completed on July 7 and the results also confirmed compliance with the safety standards. We have a well-established and effective approval regime for escalator design. Our maintenance regime for escalators stipulates regular professional examination. EMSD conducts random checks and monitoring to ensure compliance. Examination of the escalators of the same model was also carried out promptly. As such, we do not consider it necessary to cease the operation of escalators of the same model in Hong Kong. As the relevant Mainland authorities are conducting an in-depth investigation into the incident, we will keep in close contact with them to find out the cause of the incident and take appropriate follow-up actions.

Ends/Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Issued at HKT 16:44

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