Making sure lifts are safe

Lift service repairmen inspecting the lift B at block 322 Tah Ching Road.
Lift service repairmen inspecting the lift B at block 322 Tah Ching Road. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

My mother has a habit of keeping her finger firmly planted on the "open" button whenever she enters or exits a lift. I had always thought that was just her being a tad paranoid, but the recent incident in Tah Ching Road in Jurong changed my mind.

Last Friday, 85-year-old Madam Khoo Bee Hua had her hand severed in a lift after a morning stroll with her dog. She had tried to stop the lift doors from closing as her dog was still outside.

Jurong Town Council, which oversees the lift's maintenance, has begun a probe into the incident. It said that until the investigation is over, any cause, including technical problems, cannot be ruled out.

Sure, lift accidents are not terribly common here. But the latest incident has raised concerns over their safety. Machines, be they lifts, escalators or cars, have become so indispensable that one sometimes forgets they can hurt or kill. I, too, have often used my body to hold open lift doors even though there are safer ways to do so. But cautious usage can only go so far. It is paramount that the maintenance of such mechanical facilities is up to scratch.

The 19-year-old lift Madam Khoo used is serviced once a month and was not due for upgrading as its life span is 28 years, said Jurong Town Council. Residents, however, had previously complained about faulty buttons, jerking and stalling.

The tragic incident gives us cause to rethink lift maintenance. Should lifts be serviced more regularly and older ones be replaced even before their lifespan is up? What about using more modern sensors that line the door edges entirely?

Perhaps, like Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has suggested, there should be another layer of audits on top of the routine maintenance. In a highly urbanised country with more than 80 per cent of citizens living in high-rise flats, people are extremely reliant on lifts. It would be absurd if they had to be on tenterhooks while using them. Following the incident, some town councils have conducted extra checks and yielded results - a faulty lift sensor in Tampines was found and fixed.

I'm sure residents in other areas would appreciate the same due diligence done in their blocks too.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2015, with the headline 'Making sure lifts are safe'. Subscribe