Government determined to enhance lift safety

The Government is very concerned about the lift incidents in the past few days and will take immediate measures to strengthen the existing regulatory framework to further enhance the safety of lifts and escalators in Hong Kong, a spokesman for the Development Bureau said today (November 12).

The Lifts and Escalators (Safety) Ordinance (Cap 327) provides the statutory framework to ensure lift and escalator safety in Hong Kong.  Under the Ordinance, only registered lift engineers and registered lift contractors are qualified to carry out lift works including construction and installation, and maintenance service to the required safety standards according to Codes of Practice promulgated by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD). As part of its regulatory role under the Ordinance, EMSD maintains registers for qualified engineers and contractors. At present, there are 260 registered lift/escalator engineers and 49 registered lift/escalator contractors.

The spokesman said that although statistics showed that there is no rising trend of lift incidents in recent years, the Government paid serious attention towards the lift incidents in Fu Shin Estate and Wan Tau Tong Estate in Tai Po, which involve the breakage of suspension ropes, and had decided to further strengthen the existing regulatory system. Indeed, following the first lift incident in Fu Shin Estate, the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, met with the Hong Kong General Union of Lift and Escalator Employees on November 7 to listen to their concerns.

Following an internal meeting this morning (November 12) chaired by Mrs Lam and attended by the Permanent Secretary for Works, Mr Mak Chai-kwong, and the Director of Electrical and Mechanical Services, Mr Ho Kwong-wai, the Development Bureau would adopt immediate measures in four areas to enhance lift safety.

First, EMSD will consult the contractors and workers representatives through an existing working group chaired by a Chief Engineer on reviewing the existing Code of Practice with a view to strengthening safety requirements for lift maintenance. The Code of Practice will address issues such as the frequency and duration of specified maintenance procedures to safeguard lift safety. The working group will meet within this month. To underline the importance of the review, an Assistant Director of Electrical and Mechanical Services would chair these working group discussions to conduct the review.

Mrs Lam hoped that the lift industry would render full support to this review so as to further enhance lift safety.

Secondly, the Government will enhance public awareness on lift safety, in particular the knowledge of owners' corporations or owners' committees about lift maintenance and tendering of lift maintenance services. The content of an existing pamphlet on lift safety will be beefed up to include these messages.

EMSD will also provide a sample tender document with the requisite scope and specification for lift maintenance service to facilitate building owners and management agencies to procure the service. This and other relevant information will be posted on EMSD's website together with an enquiry hotline as soon as possible.

Thirdly, EMSD will step up random inspections and spot checks of lifts in private buildings in the coming three months. Currently, EMSD conducts random checking on about 10 per cent of some 49,000 existing lifts in private buildings adopting a risk-based approach. The inspections do not cover the lifts in public housing estates and Government buildings, which are exempted under the Lifts and Escalators (Safety) Ordinance, and are regulated by their respective competent authorities.

To achieve this task, the Development Bureau will through internal redeployment provide additional resources to EMSD to strengthen its current 18-member lift inspection team. The department will carry out the enhanced frequency of inspections in the next three months commensurate with the extra resources available. 

"The longer term inspection plan and the permanent resources required will be assessed in light of the findings of the investigation into the recent lift incidents and the effect of the other measures," the spokesman said.

Lastly, in response to the staff union's concerns about the "bunching approach" in tendering lift maintenance services, i.e. a contractor will be required to take up the maintenance services for different brands of lift through one single contract, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Trading Fund (EMSTF) will actively consider adjusting its future tendering arrangements with each lift maintenance contract including only one single brand of lifts. This will allow the maintenance contractor to give more focus on their technology and resources allocation, while maintaining the principle of open, competitive tendering. At present, EMSD through its trading fund arm is contracted to provide lift maintenance services to some 2,000 lifts in Government buildings. The "bunching approach" of tendering was adopted since 2006 and affects 12 contracts comprising about 281 lifts.

The spokesman said that all these measures would help to enhance lift safety in Hong Kong. EMSD would continue to closely monitor the performance of registered lift engineers and lift contractors to ensure that they would provide services meeting safety standards.

Ends/Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Issued at HKT 21:12