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LCQ4: Lift safety

     Following is a question by the Hon James To Kun-sun and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (November 19):


     The incident of a lift in Fu Shin Estate, a public housing estate, plunging to the ground, which occurred last month, has aroused public concern about the safety of lifts.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a)  why the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department ("EMSD") did not immediately make an announcement following the occurrence of the aforesaid serious incident which involved breakage of suspension ropes of the lift, but confirmed it only upon media enquiries 10 days later; of the respective numbers of cases in the past three years in which owners of lifts or registered lift contractors ("the contractors") notified and did not notify EMSD immediately of incidents involving lifts as required by law, the number of such cases announced by EMSD, as well as the penalties imposed on those people convicted on grounds of not immediately making a notification or other contraventions;

(b)  given that currently a single contractor is selected by tender to undertake maintenance of the lifts in a public housing estate which were manufactured by different manufacturers, whether the authorities will review the arrangement, and whether they will conduct comprehensive inspections on all the other lifts in public housing estates which are maintained by the contractor involved in the above incident; and

(c)  how the authorities presently monitor the repair and maintenance of lifts in various kinds of buildings, and whether they will carry out surprise checks on the annual safety inspections conducted by registered lift engineers, checking if the quality of the parts used by the contractors meets the statutory requirements and safety standards, as well as amending existing guidelines or codes of practice (e.g. to require that the inspection and maintenance work be carried out by at least two repair workers, and to introduce a minimum number of inspection hours, etc.)?


     The Lifts and Escalators (Safety) Ordinance (Cap 327) provides the statutory framework to ensure safety of lifts in private buildings in Hong Kong.  Under the Ordinance, only registered lift engineers and registered lift contractors are qualified to carry out lift works including construction, installation and maintenance service.  These works shall comply with the required safety standards according to the Code of Practice promulgated by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department ("EMSD").  The Ordinance requires the EMSD, as the regulatory authority, to maintain registers for qualified engineers and contractors.

     Lifts in public housing estates managed by the Hong Kong Housing Authority are not governed by the Lifts and Escalators (Safety) Ordinance.  However, the Housing Department, being the authority responsible for the regulation and maintenance of lifts in public housing estates, follows the requirements under the Ordinance as the basis for regulation of lifts.  In this regard, the Secretary for Transport and Housing will respond to Members' questions on lifts in public housing estates in the supplementary questions and answers session.

     The Administration's reply to the three-part question is as follows:

(a)  Section 27A of the Lifts and Escalators (Safety) Ordinance requires that certain lift incidents shall be reported.  After the occurrence of the prescribed lift incidents, the owner of a lift shall immediately notify the EMSD and the registered lift contractor.  The registered lift contractor shall, on receipt of the notification, immediately carry out investigation and shall, within seven working days, submit a report to the Director of Electrical and Mechanical Services.

     The lift incident occurred in Fu Shin Estate is an incident prescribed in section 27A.  On receipt of the notification, the EMSD immediately carried out an investigation and inspected all lifts of the same type in Fu Shin Estate, and found no similar problems.  The registered lift contractor, in accordance with the Ordinance, submitted a preliminary report within seven working days from the occurrence of the incident.

     The EMSD at that time considered that the incident needed further investigation.  The major damaged parts of the lift were sent to laboratory for a detailed analysis of the cause of damage.  The Department has also subsequently conducted checks on about 500 lifts of the same model in Hong Kong.  Therefore, the Fu Shin Estate incident was not announced to the public immediately.  Since lift safety is an item of a high level of concern of the public, the EMSD has undertaken that, if any serious lift incident occurs in future, the Department will announce the incident as early as possible so as to ease public concern.

     Over the past three years, the EMSD has not received any reports on lift incidents similar to the one occurred in Fu Shin Estate (i.e. breakage of a number of suspension ropes of a lift at the same time). I would elaborate that in the past four years, there were cases of breakage of suspension ropes in lifts but each only involved one rope and not a number of ropes.  There was one case of breakage of one suspension rope in a lift in Fung Tak Estate, Wong Tai Sin, in May 2005 and there was breakage of one suspension rope in a lift with four suspension ropes in Poplar Street, Sham Shui Po, on October 14, 2008.  The EMSD did not announce the cases based on its considerations at that time.  

     Of the reports of other incidents received by the EMSD under section 27A of the Lifts and Escalators (Safety) Ordinance, they mainly fall under two categories.  For incidents not involving equipment failure (e.g. caused by careless use of lifts by passengers), there were 132 cases in 2008 (up to end September), 224 in 2007 and 201 in 2006.  

     For incidents involving equipment failure which resulted in breakdown of lifts but without affecting their safety, the number was 21 in 2008 (up to end September), 27 in 2007 and 31 in 2006.

     The causes for most of the above incidents could be immediately traced.  The equipment failure only happened in the individual lifts, and had no implications on the safety of all lifts of the same model or other similar installations.  Regarding those incidents involving careless use of lift and for which ambulances were called, the media would notice the same immediately and make appropriate reports.  The EMSD therefore did not make any particular announcement of such incidents.

     In the past, the EMSD did not discover any cases in which immediate notification of the occurrence of incidents as required by the Ordinance were not made to it.

(b)  Lifts in all public housing estates and individual Home Ownership Scheme estates where owners' corporations have not yet been formed are under the direct management of the Housing Department.  The routine repair and maintenance services of all lifts under the direct management of the Housing Department are carried out by the original maintenance contractors.  No arrangement has been made for the provision of maintenance service by a single contractor for lifts made by different manufacturers.  In the wake of the lift incident in Fu Shin Estate, the Housing Department had immediately instructed the relevant maintenance contractors to complete inspecting lifts in those estates under its direct management before 6 November this year.  The contractors had finished the inspections and confirmed that the lift operations were normal.  In addition, the Housing Department had asked all its lift maintenance contractors who provide relevant service that in conducting routine checks and maintenance service every week, they shall follow the latest Technical Circular issued to the industry by the EMSD in November this year to additionally inspect the cable systems and overspeed governors of the lifts.  Lifts in the estates under the Tenant Purchase Scheme (e.g. Fu Shin Estate) are maintained and repaired by the contractors appointed by their owners' corporations and are regulated by the EMSD.

     According to our understanding, Fu Shin Estate has adopted the tendering approach in arranging for the provision of lift maintenance service by a single contractor for lifts made by different manufacturers.  Such tendering arrangement has also been adopted for the maintenance contracts of a small number of Government properties by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Trading Fund under the EMSD.  To reinforce the quality of lift maintenance, I have already asked the Electrical and Mechanical Services Trading Fund to adjust its future tendering arrangements.  

(c)  The Lifts and Escalators (Safety) Ordinance regulates the cycles of periodic maintenance, periodic examination and periodic testing for lifts in private buildings, which include inspection and testing with loading once every five years, annual inspection and testing, as well as monthly routine maintenance and inspection.  Lift works could only be carried out by registered lift engineers and registered lift contractors, who shall provide lift maintenance services in accordance with the safety guidelines drawn up in line with the international standards and the requirements of the Code of Practice.  Also, to ensure the quality of lift components, the major safety components of lift installations must possess the test certificates issued by accredited independent testing institutes.  Currently, the EMSD conducts audit inspections for 10% of the lifts in private buildings every year.  Samples are selected under the principle of risk assessment.  The Department also carries out surprise checks to ensure that the services provided by contractors are up to standard.  Regarding lifts in Government buildings, at present, the repair and maintenance works are undertaken by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Trading Fund.  The Trading Fund also arranges the relevant works in accordance with the requirements and technical standards of the Lifts and Escalators (Safety) Ordinance, and monitors the works as appropriate.

     For lifts in public housing estates, the Housing Department is responsible for their repair and maintenance.  Although lifts in public housing estates are not covered by the Lifts and Escalators (Safety) Ordinance, the Housing Department employs lift engineers and contractors registered under the Ordinance to conduct lift repair and maintenance works according to all the requirements and standards under the Ordinance and the EMSD guidelines.  Moreover, with reference to the current arrangement of the EMSD, the Independent Checking Unit of the Housing Department examines one-tenth of the periodic examinations and testings carried out by lift maintenance contractors, so as to monitor the performance of engineers and contractors.

     Although statistics do not reveal an increasing trend of lift incidents in private buildings in recent years, the Government is highly concerned about the recent lift incidents and will take immediate measures to enhance the existing regulatory framework in order to further improve lift safety in private buildings in Hong Kong.  The EMSD will redeploy resources to strengthen audit inspection in the next three months.  It will also review the long-term inspection programme with regard to the investigation results of the recent lift incidents as well as the effectiveness of other measures, so as to ensure the effective operation of the regulatory mechanism.

     With a view to further strengthening the requirements of lift safety, the EMSD will consult the contractors and workers' representatives on a review of the existing Code of Practice through an existing working group.  The Code of Practice will specify the procedures, frequency and time of repair and maintenance to ensure lift safety.  The working group will convene a meeting this month.

Ends/Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Issued at HKT 18:11


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