Sunday 13 March 2016

Govt to ramp up lift inspections islandwide

BCA to intensify audits of lifts, especially those in HDB blocks, in wake of incidents
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2016

A spate of lift mishaps has prompted an islandwide ramp-up in inspections.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong announced yesterday that he has asked the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) to intensify its audits of lifts around Singapore, especially those in Housing Board blocks.

"This may cause some disruption to lift operations and inconvenience to residents," he explained in a post on Facebook.

"I seek your patience and understanding on this matter. We want to be thorough in our checks and cannot compromise on safety."

Lift owners play an important role in ensuring that their lifts are maintained in accordance to prevailing standards and...
Posted by Building and Construction Authority (Singapore) on Thursday, March 10, 2016

The BCA said the checks will pay more attention to lifts in areas where incidents have occurred, before moving on to other places.

There are about 59,000 passenger lifts in Singapore.

According to the BCA, there have been 10 lift incidents since 2013.

The lift problems that have made the news over the past six months (since October) have all taken place in HDB blocks.

Last October, an 85-year-old Jurong resident's hand was severed by the doors of an HDB lift, although investigations showed that there was nothing wrong with the lift.

In January, a lift in Edgefield Plains was suspended from service after one of its inner doors stayed open while it moved.

On Monday, a 36-year-old maid fell after the lift she was in suddenly shot up 17 floors. It later stalled, trapping her.

The incident, which happened at Block 317 in Ang Mo Kio Street 31, is still being investigated.

Experts told The Straits Times that cases such as that in Ang Mo Kio are rare. The 23-year-old lift in this incident is five years short of the usual replacement age for HDB lifts.

But experts said a lift's safety depends on regular and proper maintenance, not its age.

Lift engineer Kok Peng Koon, 80, said: "Individual lift parts can still be upgraded. So it is important to check them."

Mr Wong also said the BCA will complete its review of lift regulations and standards this year. This review, which began in 2014, will include legislative changes.

The BCA did not specify these changes, but said it will conduct public and industry consultations on proposed amendments to maintenance regulations.

"Where needed, new measures to ensure the continued safety of lifts in our buildings will be introduced," it said.

Since January, the BCA has distributed 140,000 lift safety posters to all lift owners such as town councils and condominium managements.

These illustrated posters instruct users on the dos and don'ts in lifts - such as not jumping in the cabin.

The BCA has also sent out circulars to lift contractors and examiners to remind them to be vigilant in maintaining lifts, and conducted seminars to raise awareness of lift audit findings.

Under lift regulations, all passenger lifts used by the public must be maintained monthly. Such maintenance works usually involve inspecting items such as door sensors, brakes and lift cables, said experts.

MP for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah welcomed the extra checks by BCA. She said: "It is always good to have an extra pair of eyes. We don't want people to lose confidence in using their lifts."

Probe into case of lift that shot up 17 floors
BCA suspends use of malfunctioning lift; town council must appoint independent examiner
By Yeo Sam Jo and Benjamin Tan, The Straits Times, 10 Mar 2016

The authorities are probing the latest incident in a spate of Housing Board lift glitches, which has left residents concerned.

The use of one of two lifts at Block 317, Ang Mo Kio Street 31 was suspended on Tuesday by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) after it malfunctioned on Monday evening. Ms Evi Lisnawati fell and hit her back after Lift A, which she was taking to the ground floor, suddenly shot up 17 storeys.

It then stalled between the 19th and 20th storeys, trapping the 36-year-old Indonesian maid for over an hour before she was rescued. BCA said Ang Mo Kio Town Council (AMKTC), which manages the lift, is now required to appoint an independent authorised examiner to inspect it.

The authorised examiner must also recommend rectification works and submit its findings to BCA.

A BCA spokesman said: "BCA will allow the lift to resume operations only when the investigation and rectification works are completed, and BCA is satisfied that the lift is safe for use."

A spokesman for AMKTC said this is the first time the 23-year-old lift has caused problems.

In the light of Monday's incident, he said the town council is stepping up its lift maintenance, which is usually carried out once a month, although it did not specify how.

The lift, which was manufactured by Fujitec, was last serviced on Feb 23. The AMKTC spokesman added: "The investigation is still ongoing and we shall await the conclusion from the investigators and (professionals) before proceeding further."

Fujitec Singapore's chief operating officer William Wong said his company's technicians are assisting BCA with investigations.

Asked what might have caused the accident, Mr Wong said: "Until we are able to pinpoint the cause, I don't want to speculate."

Some residents had noticed problems with the two lifts in the block even before the accident.

Administrator Lim Geok Hong, 53, who has lived there for over 20 years, said both lifts would occasionally fail to move even after the doors shut.

She said in Mandarin: "You have to push the lift doors slightly before the lift will start to move."

Retiree Wong Leat, 68, said that in the two weeks before the accident, he had sometimes felt Lift A shaking while it was moving.

"Even my granddaughters were scared," he said.

AMKTC chairman Ang Hin Kee said that the block's Lift B is "functioning normally" and checks have been carried out by BCA and Fujitec.

He added: "We will continue to check it daily over the next few days. We are also talking with residents to allay their concerns."

Last October, an 85-year-old Jurong resident's hand was severed after the doors of the lift she was in closed on her dog leash. She also fell and broke her leg.

In January, a faulty HDB lift in Punggol's Edgefield Plains was suspended from use after one of the lift's inner doors stayed open while the lift moved.

* Town councils may have to set aside funds for new lifts
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Town councils may be required to set aside a stipulated portion of their sinking fund to replace old lifts, a move the authorities are considering even as they pledge to step up checks on lifts in the light of recent high-profile accidents.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong announced the potential measure yesterday when he said his ministry was looking into ways to help town councils manage their finances better.

It wants them to plan ahead and keep an eye on whether they have enough funds for the long term. To this end, it may require "town councils to submit their projections and plans for financial sustainability", he said.

Pinpointing lift replacement, he noted that, as it is a major item of sinking fund expenditure, his ministry is considering "ring-fencing part of the town councils' sinking funds" to pay for it.

Mr Wong was answering Mr Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), who wanted to know whether town councils have enough funds to replace lifts.

Town councils manage HDB estates. Under the law, they are required to set aside a minimum portion of the service and conservancy charges they collect from residents and the grants-in-aid they receive from the Government, to pay for cyclical works. These include the replacement of lifts and lift parts.

The portion is 30 per cent for one- to three-room flats, and 35 per cent for larger flats, Mr Wong added.

Lift safety and maintenance in HDB estates have hit the headlines in recent months.

Last October, an 85-year-old Jurong resident's hand was severed when the doors of the lift closed before her dog got in, and while the dog leash was looped around her left wrist. As the lift moved up, her hand was dragged through a gap in the doors. Investigations, however, found nothing wrong with the lift.

In January, the operation of a lift in Punggol was suspended after an inner door remained open while the lift moved.

Then earlier this month, a lift in an Ang Mo Kio block suddenly shot up 17 floors, causing a 36-year-old woman in it to fall and hurt her back. The lift later stalled and trapped the woman inside for more than an hour.

The incidents led the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) to announce that it would step up its audit of lifts in Singapore, especially those in HDB blocks. It also said there would be changes to the law when it completes its ongoing review of lift regulations this year.

MPs came up with ideas to boost lift safety yesterday.

Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked if the Ministry of National Development (MND) would establish a skills framework to ensure lift maintenance is up to standard, while Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) suggested having an internal appraisal system to rank lift companies by their performance.

Replying, Mr Wong said the HDB pays attention to quality when procuring lifts.

"It will and already looks at breakdown rates of different lift models as a quality measure in selecting the new lift model for installation in new HDB blocks," he said.

"Beyond the installation, the rest of it really depends on maintenance, regular, good checks and proper inspection regimes."

Still, the BCA is looking at ways to "strengthen the capacity" of lift technicians and authorised examiners, including a performance-based regime to ensure that lifts are properly maintained, he added.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) asked if the MND would consider an upgrading programme or subsidy for lifts that have not reached the end of the recommended 28-year replacement cycle but have obsolete parts.

Mr Wong said the HDB will work with the town councils to help them look for "appropriate replacement for these lift parts, in particular".

Ang Mo Kio lift accident 'likely due to brake issue'

Brakes of Ang Mo Kio lift could not hold lift car in stationary position: Examiner
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 30 Mar 2016

The lift in Ang Mo Kio that suddenly shot up 17 storeys earlier this month probably had brakes that were not working properly, investigations have found.

The examiner appointed by Ang Mo Kio Town Council to inspect the lift concluded that it was likely that the brakes were "not functioning well", the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) said yesterday. The BCA will investigate if its lift safety regulations were contravened in this case, and take enforcement action where appropriate, it said.

On March 7, maid Evi Lisnawati, 36, was in the lift at Block 317, Ang Mo Kio Street 31, when it shot up 17 storeys suddenly. She fell and hurt her buttocks.

The lift then stalled, trapping her for more than an hour.

The Fujitec lift was suspended from use while investigations were carried out by an authorised examiner appointed by the town council.

The examiner's report, submitted to the BCA last Thursday, said the accident occurred because the brakes could not hold the lift car in a stationary position. The examiner added that this could have been due to the "jammed mechanical parts of the brakes, oily brake drum and worn-off brake liners".

The BCA said its independent inspections concur with the examiner's findings.

It added that Ang Mo Kio Town Council's lift contractor, also Fujitec, has since completed the "required rectification works", which included replacing the brake liner and cleaning the brake drum - parts of the lift's braking system.

The lift was certified safe for use and resumed operation on Monday.

Ang Mo Kio Town Council's general manager, Mr Victor Wong, told The Straits Times that since the incident, his team has checked all 2,210 Housing Board lifts in the town.

All of them, including their brakes, are in good condition, he said, adding that the town council will conduct more random audits on the maintenance sessions done by lift contractors.

A town council spokesman said it will follow the examiner's recommendation to engage an authorised examiner to conduct brake tests on the lift in the Ang Mo Kio incident every quarter this year to verify that the brakes work normally.

This is over and above the brake test that the lift contractor is required to do during the monthly lift maintenance, said the BCA.

Lift engineer Leong Shee Kok, 63, said brakes are among the most common parts to be checked during regular maintenance. "It is standard, just as you would check the brakes in a car," he said. "If the drum is oily or the lining worn out, the brake efficiency will be greatly reduced."

Lift owners, including town councils, are required by law to engage registered lift contractors to maintain their lifts. "Lift contractors should do so with due diligence," the BCA said, adding that it takes a serious view of non-compliance with its safety regulations.

Before the incident, the problem lift in Ang Mo Kio, which is 23 years old, was last maintained on Feb 23.

Some residents in the block are still shaken by the incident. Ms Evi, for instance, avoids taking the lift whenever possible. "If I am alone I take the stairs. I am still so scared," said the Indonesian, who lives with her employers on the fifth floor.

A housewife in her 50s, who wanted to be known only as Madam Yeo, said: "I would feel safer if they replace the whole lift."

Along with other recent HDB lift mishaps, the Ang Mo Kio incident prompted the BCA to ramp up its lift audits across Singapore. It added that its ongoing review on lift regulations, to be completed this year, will come with legislative changes.

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