Options to explore to elevate lift safety

A repair notice at the life lobby of the HDB block in Ang Mo Kio (left), where a lift suddenly shot up 17 floors and trapped an Indonesian maid, on March 7, 2016.
A repair notice at the life lobby of the HDB block in Ang Mo Kio (left), where a lift suddenly shot up 17 floors and trapped an Indonesian maid, on March 7, 2016. ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN TAN

Within the past five months, there have been two major incidents of lift malfunction in Housing Board flats ("Woman's hand severed in lift accident at HDB block"; Oct 10, 2015, and "Maid rescued from lift that 'shot up 17 floors'"; March 9).

The earlier incident last October even caused an elderly woman's hand to be severed, though no major issues with the lift in question were detected in subsequent investigations ("Probe finds nothing wrong with lift involved in accident"; Nov 7, 2015).

It is encouraging that the Building and Construction Authority and Ang Mo Kio Town Council have swiftly identified the likely brake fault in the more recent incident and are taking remediation action ("Lift accident 'likely due to brake issue'"; yesterday).

However, the latest incident raises questions about the regulatory regime for lift maintenance.

Judging from anecdotal evidence, lift maintenance seems to be carried out during non-peak periods by external contractors without supervision.

This can lead to potential faults remaining unreported or under-represented.

A solution would be to allow or mandate that relevant town council personnel accompany contractors on their maintenance rounds.

The benefits of this are twofold:

• The town council representative can ensure that checks are being carried out competently and that any problems are reported immediately for the town council to track.

• Greater accountability and transparency may well be achieved by tweaking existing policy on lift maintenance, thus, improving safety standards.

The Smart Nation initiative should also be applied to lifts.

Recent advances in cloud computing and sensor technology have allowed lift makers to create sophisticated diagnostic systems.

The current system of monthly checks can be augmented by real-time fault reporting systems embedded into lifts, thereby reducing turnaround time for troubleshooting, repair and maintenance.

It would certainly remove a significant weakness inherent in monthly physical checks; after all, moving components often degrade in unexpected ways, especially in the demanding operational conditions that lifts face.

It is indeed fortuitous that there was no major injury in the latest incident, but complacency is never an option in ensuring lifts do not cause undue harm to users.

Instead, all reasonable policy options have to be explored to prevent a recurrence of such events.

Tay Hong Yi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2016, with the headline 'Options to explore to elevate lift safety'. Print Edition | Subscribe