Why It Matters

Playing it safe with escalators

A woman engrossed in using her smartphone while on an escalator down into the tunnel of Bishan Circle Line MRT station. PHOTO: ST FILE

When matters of lift safety and maintenance arise, they generate a flurry of debate, Forum letters and even parliamentary questions.

In contrast, there seemed to be little response to last Friday's announcement of stricter rules for the 6,000 or so escalators in Singapore. From Nov 1, escalator owners must engage registered escalator contractors to conduct monthly maintenance.

Escalators must also be examined, inspected and tested annually by an independent authorised examiner and then certified. And under a new system to be introduced in phases, escalator owners must use the above certification to apply for a permit to operate. Some might question whether all these measures are necessary and whether they might impose a burden on building owners.

Unlike lifts - which have been at the centre of several high-profile and occasionally fatal accidents - escalators here have seen few reported incidents.

But the Building and Construction Authority's (BCA) stance seems to be "better safe than sorry" - and rightly so. As BCA chief executive John Keung pointed out, major escalator accidents have taken place abroad, including a case in China last July in which a woman died after falling through an escalator floor panel.

Besides, the new regulations are not as onerous as they may seem. The Singapore Standard Code of Practice 15 already requires escalators to be maintained monthly. Responsible owners will already have been doing so. The new BCA regulations merely give that teeth and set out more clearly what the required maintenance outcomes are.

The need for examination and the permit-to-operate system are new, but occur only annually and are thus unlikely to pose a major burden. The BCA's staggered timeline for these two new requirements - up till Jan 31, 2018 - gives owners time to come to terms with them.

We notice only accidents that occur and cannot know how many were prevented. And that is precisely why the BCA's proactive, pre-emptive approach to escalator safety should be applauded.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline Playing it safe with escalators. Subscribe