The Straits Times says

Lift high-rise living to safer level

Anxiety over the functioning of lifts in buildings, caused by a spate of accidents, should be assuaged by the announcement of a $450 million plan for their modernisation. The new Lift Enhancement Programme for HDB flats allocates 90 per cent funding to town councils to install safety features recommended by the Building and Construction Authority. The Housing Board has urged town councils to undertake an upgrading exercise that raises older lifts to the same standards as their newer counterparts. Although the programme is not mandatory, no town council should pass up this opportunity to upgrade the most-used facility in high-rise blocks. Hence, lifts that function safely and reliably are a must.

Admittedly, the scope of the task is gigantic. No fewer than 24,000 of the 61,000 passenger lifts here are in HDB blocks and, out of them, about 20,000 lifts are eligible under the new scheme. While no starting date has been announced yet, and town councils will enjoy a decade in which to take advantage of the scheme, they should move quickly to benefit from it. Cost has held back the pace of Singapore's quest for lift improvements. For example, even a basic item such as a telephone in the lift is not available. Town councils, backed by the purses of the state, now have an opportunity to raise standards substantially. They owe this to the residents whom they serve.

A shortage of technicians and professionals hobbles upgrading efforts at the moment. This situation should change as plans take off for a defined career progression pathway for these workers, designed to attract entrants to the industry. Those looking for jobs in the sector would take heart from the fact that, unlike segments buffeted by external economic downturns, this is an industry rooted in the everyday lives of people that is here to stay. Job security is one of the enticements on offer; another is the satisfaction of seeing the old and the young in housing estates enjoy the ease of vertical mobility every day and not be stranded by stalled lifts. In return for progressive salaries and career growth ladders, maintenance crews must deliver uncompromising zero-defect service.

Private building operators must not lag behind in this effort. Though the lift upgrading guidelines apply to public housing, condominium managements should study how they, too, could raise standards without undue delay. The decade offered to town councils is a template for mass housing that is inevitably tethered to cost management. Owners of million-dollar private flats would expect their blocks to be upgraded faster. Singapore must keep abreast of the times. Belgium and New York have implemented mandatory lift modernisation programmes; Finland and Hong Kong have set guidelines for the voluntary modernisation of lifts. Service providers here should not wait for push to come to shove.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2016, with the headline 'Lift high-rise living to safer level'. Print Edition | Subscribe