Escalator accident demands answers

Updated: 2017-03-30 07:13

(HK Edition)

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Escalator accident demands answers

The public was shocked last Saturday to see video footage circulated on the internet showing a frightening scene in a crowded Mong Kok shopping mall - dozens of people were seen sliding down a 45-meter-long escalator to the bottom where they were heaped upon each other. Seventeen people were injured, fortunately most of them not seriously.

The first thing that came to people's minds was definitely the question: "How could it have happened? Aren't all escalators in the city, especially those that carry so many people every day, carefully maintained and regularly checked for safety?"

Then, it was revealed by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) on Wednesday that, upon initial examination, it had been found that all three of the escalator's drive chains were broken and the safety device was not working. It sounds as if every major component part in the escalator broke down at the same time.

The large numbers of high-rises in densely populated urban areas of Hong Kong have led to the widespread use of escalators. These have also become increasingly long. While the one in Langham Place where the accident happened was the longest indoor escalator in Hong Kong, there are many other similar, though not so long, escalators across the city. And some of those installed outdoors are even longer than the one in Langham Place, like the one at Mid-Levels. The huge amount of human traffic they transport daily has placed a very heavy responsibility on escalator companies and the EMSD to ensure the safety of users.

According to escalator experts, the drive chains are made of alloy that does not break easily. Why were all three of them found to be broken? If only the drive chains were broken, the safety device would have prevented the escalator from reversing. But the emergency brake was not triggered, hence the accident. Why were the problems not spotted when a routine check was conducted just two days before the accident? There are a lot of questions to be answered.

To put the public's mind at ease, the government has already started to inspect all escalators across the city and has promised to conduct a full investigation into the possible cause of the accident. We look forward to finding out whether it was really a freak accident or an unfortunate incident involving human error. The future report would certainly include suggestions on how to prevent such worrying incidents recurring; the suggestions would, we hope, include measures to address the manpower shortage in the industry, which could lead to oversights in routine inspections and hence accidents.

(HK Edition 03/30/2017 page8)