LegCo : Speech by SDEV on the second reading of the Lifts and Escalators Bill

Following is the English translation of the speech delivered by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, at the Legislative Council meeting today (May 11) on second reading of the Lifts and Escalators Bill.

I move the Second Reading of the Lifts and Escalators Bill (the Bill). The purpose of the Bill is to introduce a series of measures under a monitoring system to strengthen regulatory control over lifts and escalators to ensure public safety.

Hong Kong is one of the most densely-developed cities in the world. To tie in with the development need of the city, many high-rise buildings have been built. Many lifts and escalators have been installed in these buildings with high usage rate. Their safe operation is closely related to the daily living of the people at large. In this connection, the Lifts and Escalators (Safety) Ordinance (LESO) was enacted as early as in 1960. At present, there are more than 57 000 lifts in Hong Kong. From 2006 to 2010, there were 170-odd cases of mechanical malfunctioning related to lifts, causing injury to over 20 people. In view of the recent lift incidents, the Government has stepped up its efforts since 2008 to implement a package of multi-pronged measures under the existing legislative framework to strengthen regulatory control over the safety of lifts and escalators. These measures include the enhancement of Codes of Practice on Lift Safety, disclosure of the performance of registered lift contractors, stepping up inspections and enhancing publicity.

At the same time, the Administration has conducted a stringent and comprehensive review of the LESO. In April 2009, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department set up two task forces formed by representatives of the industry (including labour unions, trade organizations, the Vocational Training Council and the Construction Workers Registration Authority), as well as relevant professional engineering institutions to review respectively the registration systems for lift/escalator engineers and workers, as well as other related matters.

Subsequently, public consultation was held between November 2009 and February 2010 on legislative amendments proposed after discussions by the task forces. The relevant amendments were generally supported by the public. On 22 June 2010, we reported the findings of the public consultation to the Legislative Council Panel on Development. The Panel was also briefed about the Administration's way forward on the legislative proposal.

As the LESO was enacted in 1960, various amendments made over the past few decades have made the current structure of the Ordinance very complicated. Also, considering the substantial amendments to the current legislation required under this legislative amendment exercise, the Administration proposes to introduce a new bill and repeal the LESO such that obligations of stakeholders can be set out in more clearly specified provisions under a more systematical framework.

After thorough discussions with trade representatives, we have set out the proposed provisions in the Bill. In short, the Bill will strengthen regulatory control in four  major aspects, namely, first, strengthening the regulation of lift/escalator workers, engineers and contractors; second, increasing the penalty levels of offences; third, extending the coverage of the legislation; and fourth, improving the existing regulatory processes to enhance efficiency.

At present, lift/escalator workers can acquire the status of competent workers according to specified provisions of the LESO so that they can carry out lift/escalator works independently. However, under the existing provisions, some experienced workers may lose their qualification of competent workers when they work for different employers or are no longer directly employed by a registered contractor. To replace this employment-tied arrangement, we propose to introduce a stand-alone registration system whereby qualified lift/escalator workers may apply for registration as registered lift/escalator workers based on their academic attainment, training and experience. Under the new system, experienced workers without the specified academic qualification can also apply for registration if they can pass a trade test and have the required experience. Registered workers must renew their registration every five years. Through the registration system, the Administration can monitor the technical level of workers more effectively, promote continuous self-development, and regulate improper or unsafe work practices.

In order to avoid any undue impact on the livelihood of existing qualified workers, we propose to introduce a transitional arrangement whereby they can continue undertaking lift/escalator works under the new system and they will be given assistance to acquire the necessary qualification for registration.

In respect of strengthening the regulation on lift/escalator engineers, we propose to upgrade the registration threshold of lift/escalator engineers to that of registered professional engineers with at least two years' relevant experience. Registered lift/escalator engineers must also renew their registration every five years. In order to allow the existing practitioners to continue serving the public, we propose that all registered lift/escalator engineers can smoothly migrate to the new system. A grace period will be set so that degree-holders in relevant engineering disciplines with not less than four years' experience can also apply for registration as registered lift/escalator engineers within the grace period.

In terms of strengthening the regulation on contractors, we propose to make clear in the legislation the registration requirements of lift/escalator contractors, such as whether a contractor has employed the necessary professionals and workers, as well as possess the necessary tools and facilities (including technical assistance and support from the manufacturers) to carry out the lift/escalator works. In order to build up a checking mechanism to ensure continual compliance by the contractors, we also propose that the registered lift/escalator contractors must renew their registration once every five years.

In terms of penalty of offences, the maximum fine and imprisonment period for safety related offences stipulated under the current legislation are merely $10,000 and 12 months respectively. The public share our view that such penalty cannot adequately reflect the seriousness of the offences. Hence, we propose to increase the penalty levels under the Bill so that they are on par with the penalty levels of other offences of similar nature, such as those under the Builders' Lifts and Tower Working Platforms (Safety) Ordinance and the Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance. Based on this consideration, we propose to increase the maximum fine and imprisonment period of certain offences to $200,000 and 12 months.

Apart from increasing the penalty levels of offences, we also propose to extend the coverage of the legislation so that lifts/escalators installed in buildings of the Government, the Housing Authority, and so on, not covered by the current legislation will also be regulated. Moreover, in order to strengthen safety control over lifts and escalators, the Bill has extended the responsibility of lift/escalator owners to others who have the right to manage or control the lifts/escalators including the management companies of buildings, and management staff of an organization having the management or control of the lifts/escalators on behalf of the owners.

Lastly, we have proposed a series of other measures to enhance operational efficiency and enforcement effectiveness such as improving the existing certificate system and conferring power on the Director of Electrical and Mechanical Services to issue Improvement Orders to require the concerned persons to rectify any non-compliance with statutory requirements within a specified period.

The Administration hopes that through the legislative framework provided by the Bill, the regulatory system can be improved to enhance the safety level of lifts and escalators. This is the common aspiration expressed by Members in the past two years during discussions held at the Legislative Council Panel on Development, questions raised at meetings of the Legislative Council and open discussions held after the lift accidents. I implore Members to support the Bill and hope for the early passage of the Bill after scrutiny by the Council.

I so submit. Thank you.