Friday 16 October 2015

Tah Ching Road accident: Develop culture of zero accidents, especially for lifts - DPM Tharman

Probe into lift accident will take at least 2 weeks, says Tharman as he visits victim in hospital
By Olivia Ho and Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 15 Oct 2015

There can be "no compromise" on lift safety, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Wednesday (Oct 14), as he revealed that the probe into an accident that severed an elderly woman's hand in Jurong last week would last at least a fortnight.

"Lifts are something that we depend on every day... We really don't want people to have to worry about their safety when taking the lift," Mr Tharman told reporters at the National University Hospital. He was there to visit Madam Khoo Bee Hua, whose left hand was severed by a lift in her Tah Ching Road block last Friday.

The 85-year-old also fell, breaking her left leg.

Mr Tharman, who is an MP in her ward, spent an hour with her after flying in yesterday morning from an International Monetary Fund meeting in Peru.

He said of the incident: "We've to take responsibility. There's nothing to hide. There must have been something wrong with the lift, even if maintenance checks were done."

He called for safety standards in technical, engineering and maintenance works to be raised, as well as a "strong system of audit" to perform regular checks on lifts on top of the work done by maintenance contractors. "We need (a) culture of going for zero accidents... particularly when it comes to lifts."

Jurong Town Council general manager Ho Thian Poh said checks after the accident showed that the safety devices of all its lifts in the town were working.

Other town councils, including Marine Parade, Ang Mo Kio, West Coast, Chua Chu Kang and Tampines, have since stepped up checks on their lifts in the wake of the accident. At least one malfunction was discovered during Tampines Town Council's additional inspections.

Its chairman and MP for Tampines GRC, Mr Baey Yam Keng, said: "One lift had a faulty infrared sensor that has since been fixed.

"We know that some residents are anxious after the accident. Our assurance is that we are doing checks on top of the routine maintenance."

Mr Tharman said the probe to be conducted by the authorised examiner will be comprehensive. "He'll likely need at least two weeks because we want it to be a thorough job and not a quick checklist of sorts."

The man conducting the probe will be Mr Chan Chee Kong, a professional engineer from Nexco Enterprise, according to Jurong Town Council chairman David Ong.

"We will do all we can to assist (Madam Khoo and her family), be it their medical fees or other needs," Mr Ong added.

Mr Tharman called Madam Khoo the "archetypal pioneer". He has known her and her late husband, a former primary school principal, for 14 years through their work in the community.

"She's a remarkably strong person," said Mr Tharman, adding that she was "totally alert" during their meeting. "She had a long conversation with me going back many years just now, recounting lots of things in her life.

"She has a strong spirit, been through ups and downs in life, and is still determined to be independent. She still wants to do everything for herself - washing her clothes, cooking her food, walking her dog."

Taman Jurong Citizens' Consultative Committee chairman Goh Peng Tong, 62, described Madam Khoo as a friendly woman who has been a grassroots volunteer since 1989. He said she often organises activities like morning exercises and dinners for seniors in Taman Jurong.

"As a friend, I was very sad to see this happen to her. She's always smiling, always chatting with the other residents," said Mr Goh.

Madam Khoo's 59-year-old son, who gave his name only as Mr Lee, told The Straits Times that his mother is "progressing well" and there are no plans for further operations for now. "There were tears in her eyes when she saw (Mr Tharman)," he added.

Making sure lifts are safe
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 15 Oct 2015

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.


* Probe finds nothing wrong with lift involved in accident
Dog leash was too narrow for sensors to detect; town council's insurer offers to foot victim's bill
By Yeo Sam Jo and Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 7 Nov 2015

There was nothing wrong with the lift in which an 85-year-old woman lost her left hand.

Describing the Oct 9 tragedy as an "unfortunate lift incident", the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) said yesterday that a dog leash which was looped around Madam Khoo Bee Hua's left wrist was simply too narrow for sensors to detect and reopen the doors.

It was citing findings from an investigation report on the incident submitted on Monday.

As the lift went up, the leash could have pulled her hand through a gap in the doors, and the hand was severed before the lift could come to a halt.

Still, the BCA said it accepted a recommendation from the expert who probed the incident to increase public awareness on precautions to take when using lifts, including keeping small and thin objects, such as a dog leash or dangling backpack straps, away from lift doors.

The Jurong Town Council yesterday also revealed its insurer AXA has offered to foot the victim's hospital bill, as well as the expenses for two months of homecare after she is discharged. The lift in question, located at Block 322 Tah Ching Road, is maintained by the town council.

In a statement, the town council said it would continue to provide "the fullest support" for Madam Khoo and her family, to ensure they "have all the help they need to recover following this traumatic incident".

Madam Khoo, who also broke her left leg when she fell inside the lift, has been recovering at Jurong Community Hospital. She is expected to remain there for another 10 weeks.

Her 59-year-old son, who estimates the medical bill to come up to about $40,000, said he appreciated the town council's goodwill and the support of Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the MP for the Jurong ward where Madam Khoo lives.

But the son, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lee, is worried about how his mother, a widow who lives alone, will cope after she is discharged. He told The Straits Times: "What happens after two months?"

As for the report findings, he said the scenario provided by the examiner was plausible, but questioned why there was a gap big enough for his mother's hand to go through. He suggested that if the lift complied with standards, perhaps the standards should be made stricter to enhance safety.

After the incident, an authorised examiner analysed evidence such as closed-circuit television footage and a specialist medical report, and interviewed the victim. He also inspected the lift in detail and performed tests and simulations of the accident.

BCA said it also conducted its own independent investigation, and its findings were consistent with the examiner's.

Citing the report yesterday, BCA said: "All the door protective devices were tested and verified to be working according to their specifications... (They) cannot be proven reasonably to have failed to function properly on the day of the incident."

The lift doors are supposed to reopen if sensors detect an obstacle 10mm or wider between them, but were not designed to register thinner objects such as the 2mm-thick leash for Madam Khoo's dog.

The BCA said: "Based on the (examiner's) simulations, it is likely that the pull of the taut leash could have caused a fulcrum action, opening up a small gap at the base of the lift cabin doors."

The leash, said the report, partially pulled Madam Khoo's hand through this gap. It was crushed and severed in the small space between the inner and outer lift doors. The hand widened the gap between the lift doors further, triggering the emergency stop and causing the lift to stall near the third storey. The mangled hand then fell to the bottom of the lift pit.

The BCA said that it plans to boost public awareness on lift safety through measures such as distributing posters to town councils and building owners. These will caution users not to put their hands between the doors and to keep a close eye on their pets, for instance.

What the Building and Construction Authority will do next
The Straits Times, 7 Nov 2015

• Work closely with the industry and lift owners of both public and private buildings to raise public awareness on the precautions to take when using lifts.

• Continue its regular review of the safety and maintenance standards of lifts.

• Work closely with lift experts to ensure Singapore's standards continue to be on a par with the latest international standards.

Experts weigh in on preventing accidents
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 7 Nov 2015

Pet owners should carry their animals into the lift as a sure way to prevent accidents like the one in Tah Ching Road from recurring, lift experts told The Straits Times.

Another precaution, they suggested, would be to upgrade or retrofit older lifts here to include newer safety technology.

Lift and escalator engineer Kok Peng Koon, 80, said that last month's accident could have been avoided if the lift in question had a more modern multi-beam or "door curtain" sensor.

"These sensors, which sometimes have almost 200 beams for one lift, are close to 100 per cent foolproof," said Mr Kok, who has 38 years of industry experience.

"Even if you put a thin strip of paper between the doors, they will open," added the independent authorised examiner for lifts.

The 19-year-old lift which severed Madam Khoo Bee Hua's left hand last month has a single-beam infra-red sensor located about 250mm from the lift floor. The lift doors had closed on her dog leash as they were unable to detect it.

Lift engineer Quah Eng Hing, 65, said that upgrading lift door sensors is the "best solution" to avoid future accidents.

"Newer Housing Board lifts now are among the safest in the world. They have an infra-red curtain that is so dense, with criss-crossing beams that can even sense objects in front of the doors," said Mr Quah, also honorary secretary of the Singapore Lift and Escalator Contractors and Manufacturers Association.

Experts stressed that lifts like the one in Tah Ching Road are still safe to use.

But passengers should make it a point to ride lifts carefully, said engineer Dominic Cher, 47. This includes keeping clear of the doors and watching out for leashes.

"It's best to carry your dog when you go into the lift - the same way you would carry your child," said Mr Cher, who is also an independent authorised examiner.

"If you are not careful when using lifts, even if they have multi-beam sensors, things could still happen," he added. "It's hard to predict when things can break down."

As for how a gap could appear between the cabin door panels, as it did in Madam Khoo's case, experts said that this is due to the "inherent" design of the lift. Lift doors hang on rails at the top, so any force at the bottom can cause them to be prised open.

But Mr Kok and Mr Cher noted that the Singapore Standard code of practice for lifts does not specify the permissible limit of such gaps.

In response to queries yesterday, the Building and Construction Authority said the lift in Tah Ching Road remains suspended and has to be inspected again before it resumes operation. It added that the Commissioner of Buildings will lift the suspension notice only "after he is satisfied that a thorough inspection has been conducted".

Multi-beam lift door sensors 'no guarantee' against accidents, says BCA

By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 7 Nov 2015

Multi-beam door sensors on lifts cannot guarantee that lift accidents will not happen, said the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) on Monday .

The authority was referring to lift doors with multiple infrared beams. These beams act as a safety feature and trigger the reopening of doors when they are obstructed.

"While the likelihood of the lift doors closing when there is an obstruction could have been reduced had there been multi-beam sensors, these sensors still have 'blind spots'," said the BCA in response to media queries.

"This is because the beams cannot detect objects that are smaller than the spacing between beams. This is why several manufacturers/suppliers of multi-beam sensors issue disclaimers, that 'objects thinner than the beam spacing may not be detected'."

This comes after an investigation report found that there was nothing wrong with the Tah Ching Road lift which severed an elderly woman's hand last month.

In citing the report that was submitted last week, the BCA said that all door protective devices were found to be working and could not be proven to have malfunctioned on the day of the incident.

On Oct 9, Madam Khoo Bee Hua lost her left hand after the lift doors closed on the dog leash that was looped around her left wrist. As the lift went up, the leash likely pulled her hand through the gap in the cabin doors. The 85-year-old's hand was crushed, severed and dropped to the bottom of the lift pit.

The lift, equipped with a single beam sensor, was not designed to detect anything thinner than 10mm, the investigation report said. Madam Khoo's dog leash was only 2mm thick.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said on Monday that he has asked the BCA to "give priority" to reviewing Singapore's lift safety framework, which includes protective devices in lifts.

"We have a strict safety regime for lifts in Singapore today, and we will continue to enhance our standards," Mr Wong wrote in a Facebook post.

The BCA said it regularly conducts reviews of lift safety standards, adding that the current review began last year and will be completed in mid-2016.

During such reviews, the authority consults industry players, such as lift manufacturers, lift contractors and building owners.

The BCA added that Singapore's door protective devices are on a par with international standards, such as those in America, Europe and Hong Kong.

Lifts in Singapore must be fitted with protective features such as beam sensors and door edges, which re-open doors when pushed back by a certain amount of force. Some beam sensors are "3D" and can even detect obstructions in areas around the doors.

But the BCA added that all sensors are deactivated when lift doors are almost closed.

"This is to enable the doors to completely close. Otherwise, they would sense the other side of the lift door and re-open," the BCA explained.

"Hence, even with multi-beam sensors, there is no guarantee that it would be absolutely foolproof in preventing an incident like that which happened at Tah Ching Road."

In the light of the Tah Ching Road incident, the authority will also be ramping up public education on the safe use of lifts through publicity activities and distributing of posters to town councils and building owners.

Mr Wong said: "In Singapore, we use lifts on a daily basis. They are an essential facility in our high-rise living environment. So we must continue to ensure that our lifts are safe, and not take things for granted."


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