Saturday, 18 June 2016

BCA moves to tighten lift maintenance, boost safety from July 2016; Town councils to set aside more funds for lift upkeep

More detailed requirements to be spelt out, permit-to-operate system to be introduced
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 17 Jun 2016

Tighter rules in maintaining lifts and a new permit system will soon kick in as the authorities take action following a spate of lift accidents.

Starting next month, new, more detailed requirements will be spelt out for monthly lift maintenance and will draw penalties if they are not complied with, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) said yesterday.

For instance, brakes and lift parts must be checked to ensure they are not contaminated by oil or grease.

Lift car and landing doors must also be operational at all times and reopen when protective devices are activated.

"BCA's investigations into recent lift incidents revealed that the overall standard of maintenance by lift contractors can be further improved," the authority said.

"It is critical to uphold high standards of maintenance as the lifts get older, and are subject to more wear and tear over time."

Spot checks will be made to ensure requirements are being followed, BCA said, without specifying the penalties for non-compliance.

Currently, the 59,000 passenger lifts here must be maintained at least once a month, and undergo inspection and testing once a year.

BCA yesterday also urged lift contractors and owners, including town councils, to undertake preventive maintenance, take feedback from lift users seriously and attend to any issues promptly.

It added: "The public can also play their part by reporting any lift faults that they encounter to the respective lift owners... for the necessary follow-up."

A new permit-to-operate system will also be introduced in the second half of next year in which lifts will require an annual permit from BCA to operate.

This will "strengthen oversight" of lifts, said BCA. It will conduct spot checks on certified lifts.

Lift owners will be required to display the permits, which will indicate the contractor responsible for maintenance and the authorised examiner who inspected and certified the lift.

BCA said it is also looking into measures such as training programmes to boost the capability of the lift industry.

"This will ensure that the lift industry has the necessary capacity and resources to meet the new regulatory requirements and carry out its duties competently and effectively," it said.

Experts and residents yesterday welcomed the new rules, which they said would boost safety by spelling out the necessary checks.

A spate of lift incidents since October last year has left a man dead and several others injured.

BCA chief executive John Keung stressed that his agency takes a "very serious" view of lift safety.

"We have been engaging the industry and reviewing the lift regulations over the past year, and are now ready to make these changes," he said.

Tighter rules for lift upkeep welcomed
Industry players support detailed checklist, but some doubt efficacy of new BCA permit requirement
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 17 Jun 2016

Residents and experts welcomed the tighter regulations on lift maintenance, but some noted that safety still boils down to how conscientiously such work is performed.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) yesterday announced there will be a detailed checklist for maintenance work that will kick in next month.

All lifts will also require an annual permit from BCA to operate from the second half of next year, and the agency will also beef up industry capabilities through measures such as new training programmes.

"It's definitely going to help," said lift engineer and authorised examiner Dominic Cher, 47, referring to the new maintenance checklist.

"Different lift companies have different maintenance standards and some may not have such detailed guidelines. So it's good that BCA is trying to close that gap so everyone will be on the same page."

Mr Ng Wee Keong, 62, Mitsubishi Elevator Singapore's head of operations and technical services division, said some of the new requirements are already on his company's internal maintenance checklist.

He said: "There's nothing really new to me, but it serves as a good reminder and ensures all lift contractors meet a minimum standard."

Sengkang resident Tan Joo Jin, 45, said the changes were useful.

"As a safety manager, I know having a detailed checklist helps even an experienced person remember things and not miss any of the steps," said Mr Tan, who was in a lift at his Compassvale Street block when it stopped between floors and dropped suddenly last week.

Mr Cher agreed the lift industry needs more who are qualified. "This industry is definitely lacking people. Many of the skilled technicians have retired and it's hard to attract young people. It's not a glamorous job - it's dangerous, dirty and demanding."

But while they agreed a checklist is useful, industry players questioned the effectiveness of the new permit-to-operate system, which will require all lifts to obtain a BCA permit, on top of the certificate of lift maintenance and testing that authorised examiners now issue to lift owners for lifts to run.

BCA said when building owners have to apply for a permit upon the expiry of the certificate, it would be able to obtain more information from them to show the lift has been maintained properly. BCA may also ask for more checks and tests before issuing the permit.

Said Mr Cher: "At the end of the day, the BCA cannot check every single lift. They will still have to rely on the authorised examiners to ensure the lifts are safe."

Mr Tan said the requirement for lift owners to display the new permit, which indicates the maintenance contractor and the examiner who inspects and certifies the lift, is merely a psychological reassurance."The more important thing is, are they maintaining the lifts properly? I would like to see those maintaining the lifts adopt a mentality that is more proactive rather than reactive. We should be catching any problems before accidents happen."

Safety executive Lim Keng Swee, 45, whose father Lim Hang Chiang died after a lift accident last month, said: "In the first place, lift examiners should be competent enough and checks should be thorough."

Recent lift incidents
The Straits Times, 17 Jun 2016

OCT 9, 2015

Madam Khoo Bee Hua, an 85-year-old Jurong resident, lost her left hand after the lift doors closed on her dog's leash that she was still holding onto while her pet was outside.

The leash, at 2mm thick, was too narrow for lift sensors to detect.

When the lift moved, the leash tightened around Madam Khoo's wrist, pulling her hand through a small gap at the bottom of the doors, where it was crushed and severed.

She also fell and broke her left leg.

Investigations found nothing wrong with the lift at Block 322, Tah Ching Road.

MARCH 7, 2016

A lift at Block 317, Ang Mo Kio Street 31, shot up 17 storeys, causing an Indonesian domestic worker, Ms Evi Lisnawati, 36, to fall and hurt her back.

The lift later stalled, trapping her inside for 1½ hours before she was rescued.

Investigations found the brakes of the lift were not working well, due to the "jammed mechanical parts of the brakes, oily brake drum and worn-off brake liners".

MAY 15, 2016

Mr Lim Hang Chiang, 77, died after hitting his head when his mobility scooter tipped as he was backing out of the lift.

The lift at Block 247, Pasir Ris Street 21, was not level with the lobby floor when the doors opened, causing Mr Lim's scooter to topple.

Investigations are ongoing.

JUNE 7, 2016

Part-time cleaner Yeo Choon Tee, 59, hurt her spine when taking a lift from the ninth floor of Block 150, Petir Road, in Bukit Panjang.

Instead of descending to the ground floor, the lift lurched to the 11th, dropped to the third, then shot up to the 12th.

Investigations are ongoing.

JUNE 10 & 12, 2016

On June 10, the lift at Block 299A, Compassvale Street in Sengkang, which was carrying six passengers, jerked, stopped randomly between floors and shot downwards suddenly.

On June 12, another resident was taking the same lift to the ninth floor when it jerked and halted midway before opening at the fifth floor instead.

Investigations are ongoing.

Lift-related injuries must be reported to BCA under new rules
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 18 Jun 2016

From next month, lift owners and contractors will have to inform the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) of any injury or malfunction of safety-critical components such as brakes, as soon as possible.

This is part of stricter regulations to take effect from next month, a BCA spokesman said yesterday in response to a Straits Times query about the latest lift incident involving a 68-year-old woman.

Retired factory worker Lai Hsiu-Lan was going to the market on June 9 when she tripped while exiting the lift.

The car of Lift A at Block 285, Bukit Batok East Avenue 3 was not level with the first floor when the doors opened, she said. She fell forward, fracturing both her wrists and bruising her left eye.

"The lift jerked midway when coming down. But I didn't think there would be a problem when walking out," she said.

She later hailed a taxi to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, where she was given outpatient treatment.

After the accident, she could not open her left eye for two days, and both her hands are still in casts.

Jurong-Clementi Town Council, which manages the lifts in the estate, said it was informed of the incident only last Saturday, when Madam Lai's son e-mailed it.

Its general manager, Mr Ho Thian Poh, said a lift engineer from Otis Elevator Company was called to inspect the lift on Monday, once it found Madam Lai's address, which was not in the e-mail.

The manufacturer of the 22-year-old lift, Express Lift Company, had been acquired by Otis.

Mr Ho said: "The engineer found nothing wrong with the lift. We also haven't received any other complaints from residents."

A BCA spokesman said preliminary inspections by its engineers "did not show any anomalies" with the lift. But she added that as a precaution, the lift was suspended from use at around 8.30pm last night for further investigations.

Mr Ho said town council representatives had visited Madam Lai, and that the council's insurer will reimburse her medical fees.

Madam Lai's neighbours said they have experienced problems with both lifts at their block.

"For Lift A especially, the doors always open and close repeatedly when we get in," said childcare school principal Samniah Buang, 44, who lives on the eighth floor.

Undergraduate Joanna Ng, 19, said Lift A suddenly shot up to the 13th floor when she was taking it down earlier this year. "It was scary," said the ninth-floor resident.

Stressing that the town council's priority is to run regular checks on lifts under its charge, Mr Ho said: "Ever since the Taman Jurong case, we have been very careful. We don't want anyone else to get injured."

He was referring to the first in a spate of lift accidents since last October, in which a woman, 85, had her hand severed. Investigations found nothing wrong with the lift in that case.

BCA said it was not told of the latest incident when it happened on June 9, and it is not a requirement currently for the lift owner or contractor to report such incidents.

New BCA rules to ensure safety of escalators
They must undergo monthly maintenance; BCA also unveils details of stricter lift regulations
By Janice Heng and Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2016

New regulations are being introduced to ensure escalators undergo maintenance at least once a month.

Their owners must also apply for a permit to operate (PTO), and report any incident involving death, injury or malfunction of any safety- critical part to the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).

This is part of the new escalator regulatory regime - similar to regulations for lifts - announced yesterday by the authority.

BCA chief executive John Keung said "not that many" escalator accidents have been reported in Singapore, but there have been some abroad. In July last year, a woman died in China when she fell through a floor panel at the top of an escalator. "That's why we are concerned. Let's make sure we do all that we can to prevent such accidents," Dr Keung said at a media briefing.

Current standards already require escalators to have monthly maintenance, he said. "But we want to formalise this and put it in our regulations." There are about 6,000 escalators in Singapore.

From Nov 1 this year, all escalator owners must engage a BCA-registered escalator contractor to do maintenance of their machines every month. The contractors will have to achieve 10 specified maintenance outcomes, such as checking that the emergency stop switch is working.

For some owners, this will not require much change. CapitaLand Mall Asia head of operations for Singapore Jason Loy said: "We (already) engage registered contractors to carry out monthly servicing and maintenance of the lifts and escalators in our shopping malls."

Escalators will also have to undergo annual testing by a registered contractor in the presence of an independent authorised examiner.

Once it is certified that an escalator is in good working condition, the owner will use this certification and other documents to apply for a PTO from the BCA.

Yesterday, the BCA also gave details of previously announced stricter lift regulations, including the full list of 20 maintenance outcomes that lift contractors must achieve.

Eighteen are part of existing standards, but the BCA has made some of them more detailed. For instance, existing standards simply state that the lift's traction machine, brake and gearbox are "to be maintained". The new rules specify, among other things, that brakes must not be contaminated or at risk of being contaminated by oil or grease.

There are two new requirements. Lift cars should be allowed to move only when the doors are closed and locked, and various conditions are met - for instance, the gap between lift car doors must not be larger than 12mm. The lift must also stop such that the car floor is within 10mm of the lift landing. In May, an elderly man using a mobility scooter died after falling over when he was backing out of a lift that was not level with the landing.

The BCA is stepping up audit checks to ensure that lift contractors achieve the outcomes, having made 40 to 50 such checks a month for the past few months. If requirements are not met, the BCA can issue a notice to maintain the lift or to suspend service, or prosecute the lift contractor. If convicted, the contractor can be fined up to $5,000.

It will also be mandatory for owners and registered contractors who carried out the most recent servicing work to promptly tell the BCA when an incident involving death or injury to passengers or malfunction of safety-critical parts occurs.

When new lift regulations kick in
The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2016

July 25, 2016: Lift owners must engage registered contractors to conduct monthly maintenance, according to 20 specified outcomes. Owners must keep maintenance records for at least five years.

From this date or upon the expiry of existing lift certificates, owners must obtain an annual permit to operate (PTO) from BCA.

Owners and contractors must notify BCA of incidents involving injuries or malfunction of safety-critical parts. Contractors must install adequate barriers when the lift is not in operation. Sept 1, 2017: Lift owners must display the PTOs prominently in the lifts.

Deadlines for new escalator regulations

Nov 1, 2016: Escalator owners must engage registered contractors to conduct monthly maintenance. Ten specified outcomes must be achieved. Owners must keep maintenance records for at least five years.

Escalators must be examined, inspected and tested each year by a registered escalator contractor in the presence of an independent authorised examiner. Owners must apply annually for a permit to operate (PTO) from the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).

Owners and contractors must notify BCA of incidents involving injuries or malfunction of safety- critical parts. Contractors must install adequate barriers when the escalator is not in operation.

Jan 31, 2017: Deadline for obtaining a PTO for buildings completed before May 1, 1989.

April 30: Deadline to obtain PTO for buildings completed between May 1, 1989, and Dec 31, 2000, inclusive.

Oct 31: Deadline to get PTO for buildings done between Jan 1, 2001, and Dec 31, 2010, inclusive.

Jan 31, 2018: PTO deadline for buildings completed on or after Jan 1, 2011, and for all and any other escalators. March 1: Escalator owners must display PTOs prominently at or near escalators.

10 specific requirements for escalator maintenance
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2016

From Nov 1, escalator owners have to engage contractors registered with the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) to carry out maintenance of their machines every month. Contractors - who must register themselves before that date - should maintain escalators according to 10 specific outcomes:

• Safety signage and escalator's direction must be displayed clearly and prominently. The edge of each step must be marked with yellow lines. Each escalator must have sufficient lighting.

• There must be devices to prevent climbing and sliding, as well as to prevent passengers' feet from getting caught at the sides.

• The emergency stop switch, when pressed, must stop the escalator.

• The handrail must move in the same direction and speed as the steps, with a speed deviation of not more than 2 per cent. If a foreign object enters the handrail inlet, a safety switch must activate and stop the escalator.

• The escalator machinery must be kept clean and free of debris.

• The machinery must not have any oil leakage. Its moving parts must be sufficiently lubricated, and its brakes, when activated, must stop the escalator within a specified distance. All machinery must be securely mounted.

• The safety switch and sensor that detect problems, such as missing steps and open floor plates, must be working and cause the escalator to stop if activated.

• The escalator must stop if its steps exceed their rated speed by 20 per cent or more.

• Clearance gaps must conform to specific standards.

• In general, the overall wear and tear of all parts of the escalator must not affect its safe operation.

* Parliament: Town councils to set aside more funds for lift upkeep
This comes as BCA beefs up maintenance standards for lifts after a spate of accidents
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 12 Jul 2016

Town councils will have to set aside more funds to ensure that they have enough to provide for the regular upkeep of lifts in blocks under their charge.

This comes as the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) steps up requirements for lift maintenance after a spate of accidents.

A more comprehensive programme to maintain and replace lifts will inevitably cost more, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong in Parliament yesterday.

To fund this, town councils will be required to put a higher proportion of their monthly service and conservancy charges (S&CC) into their sinking funds.

A portion of these funds will then have to be set aside specifically for lift replacements.

"With more rigorous checks over time, town councils are likely to draw more on their sinking funds to replace worn-out lift parts or to carry out a complete replacement of older lifts," said Mr Wong, responding to questions from seven MPs on the subject.

"Town councils must project and plan ahead, and ensure sufficient savings for long-term financial sustainability," he added.

But he did not give the proportion of S&CC - which town councils collect from residents each month - that must go into the sinking funds.

Town councils manage Housing Board estates and must set aside a part of the S&CC they collect from residents and the grants-in-aid they receive from the Government to pay for cyclical works. They draw on sinking funds to pay for long-term maintenance needs, such as the replacement of lifts and water pumps.

From July 25, the BCA will implement tighter maintenance standards for lifts. These require, for instance, that brakes and lift parts be checked to ensure they are not contaminated by oil or grease.

Lift contractors that fail to comply with the new rules may be fined.

Singapore has 59,000 passenger lifts, of which about 24,000 are in HDB estates.

The more stringent checks come amid recent reports of lift accidents and breakdowns. Last October, an 86-year-old woman's lower left arm was severed in a lift accident.

But figures provided by Mr Wong yesterday show the rate of lift breakdowns declined last year compared with the previous two years.

Real-time data that monitors lifts in HDB blocks shows about 20 breakdowns for every 1,000 lifts each month last year, compared with 30 breakdowns in 2014 and 2013.

While the breakdown rate should be lowered further, Mr Wong said he was citing the figures as there is a current perception of a "sudden surge" in lift breakdowns.

New lift safety rules 'could raise costs'
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 12 Jul 2016

The new rule that requires town councils to set aside funds specifically for lift replacement will help ensure safer lifts for residents.

Also, the new government requirement that lifts undergo more stringent and more frequent maintenance could result in higher costs, said the chairmen of town councils interviewed yesterday.

Together, these could affect the plans for other big-ticket items, such as the painting of blocks of flats as well as the repair and replacement of water tanks, they added.

For instance, such works may have to be postponed if funds have to be diverted for lift replacement even though there is no immediate need to replace the lifts, said Tampines Town Council chairman Baey Yam Keng.

He said the new rule is reasonable as "it is the duty of town councils to ensure lifts are well maintained". But the amount of service and conservancy charges (S&CC) a town council collects from residents and the grants it receives from the Government do not commensurate with the number of lifts it has to care for, said Mr Baey.

An estate with many smaller, say, two- and three-room flats will get more government grants for its operating expenses than an estate with more five-room flats, which are not entitled to any grants.

But all the lifts need to be maintained and eventually replaced, noted Mr Baey. "So if you cannot touch a sum of money for many years, it may affect the spending on other town council projects,'' he added.

Under the new rule announced by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong in Parliament yesterday, a bigger proportion of S&CC collected must be put into the sinking fund, which pays for the estate's long-term maintenance needs.

Also, a portion of the sinking fund must be earmarked for lift replacement only.

Now, around one-third of the S&CC is put into the sinking fund and there is no stipulation on how much must be used to replace lifts.

Mr Henry Kwek, Nee Soon Town Council's vice-chairman, said his town council will need to evaluate if it has adequate money in its sinking fund for the long term.

He also wants the Government to review the grants it gives for estate maintenance, taking into account the new rules.

Mr Wong indicated his ministry may lend a hand to town councils.

It is looking at the possibility of retrofitting lifts not due for replacement soon with safety enhancements. In general, lifts have a stipulated lifespan of 28 years.

But any such move "will require significant government expenditure", he added.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad, chairman of Chua Chu Kang Town Council, is concerned that lift companies will raise prices as they would need more workers to do more frequent checks.

He added: "There is a shortage of skilled manpower now. This means costs may go up for town councils at a time when we also have to set aside a bigger amount that can be used only for lift replacement.''

Lift sector facing shortage of engineers, technicians

Job more crucial with new maintenance rules but few young Singaporeans keen to join industry
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 1 Aug 2016

With tighter maintenance rules kicking in last week, lift technicians and engineers are more crucial than ever - yet they remain scarce.

"The whole industry has been short of manpower for the last 10 years or more," said Mr Sugumaran Pillai, president of the Singapore Lift & Escalator Contractors & Manufacturers Association.

The new rules give more clarity on maintenance standards but the required frequency of life maintenance each month is unchanged.

Of the labour shortage, Mr Quah Eng Hing, secretary of the Singapore Lift & Escalator Contractors & Manufacturers Association, said: "We've always been short of people. The pace of new people joining is slow but the number of lifts is still increasing."

The Building and Construction Authority has said it will look at building up manpower capabilities in the next phase of its review on lift safety regulations.

There are currently about 2,000 lift technicians. But a few big firms account for more than 70 per cent of all lift maintenance work. Among them is Hitachi Elevator Asia, which has lifts in commercial buildings, condominiums and hotels, but not in Housing Board blocks.

"Recruitment of locals has always been a challenge in any labour-intensive industry. But Hitachi has been able to recruit and retain manpower so far," said a Hitachi spokesman.

Seven of Hitachi's 10 maintenance engineers and 89 of its 118 maintenance servicemen are Singaporeans. The rest are Malaysians.

Hitachi noted that few young Singaporeans are keen to join the industry, "maybe due to a perceived tougher environment", compared with similar-paying jobs in manufacturing, sales or administration.

The basic monthly wage - excluding overtime - is $1,160 to $2,080 for a technician with Institute of Technical Education (ITE) qualifications and $2,060 to $3,690 for a supervisor. For support engineers, the monthly basic salary starts at $2,150.

One of Hitachi's strategies is its tie-up with ITE College East. Since 2012, three to four students from the vertical transportation course have served an internship with Hitachi yearly. There, they learn the basic skills of lift and escalator maintenance, and are attached to full-time technicians to get a taste of the job.

Another initiative is Hitachi's "recommend a friend" scheme, with incentives for employees who do so.

Technician Omar Shamsudin, 28, is one of those recruited by a friend. Previously a dispatch rider, he joined Hitachi two years ago. "I wanted to apply (the knowledge gleaned from) my Higher Nitec in Mechatronics Engineering in my working life," said the ITE graduate. "Since (I was) young, I've been using lifts. Now that I've entered the lift industry, I have the chance to learn how the lift works, its safety functions, and the importance of maintenance work in order to keep the lift in a working and safe operating condition."

* Modernise lifts to boost safety, urges BCA

It lists recommended features that lift owners can implement to improve reliability and performance
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2016

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is urging lift owners to modernise their lifts for greater reliability and performance.

To aid this voluntary move, the BCA has drawn up a list of recommended features.

These safety-improving features include a battery-powered automatic rescue device that can bring a lift to the nearest landing and open the doors if there is a power failure.

Said BCA chief executive officer John Keung: "The BCA will be issuing an advisory to lift owners and the industry, and we encourage all lift owners to consider lift modernisation to further improve the standard of existing lifts in Singapore."

There are about 61,000 passenger lifts here, including about 24,000 in public housing estates.

In response to queries, a Housing Board spokesman said: "The BCA's recommended list of modernisation items to enhance the performance of older lifts will be applied to HDB lifts as well."

The Ministry of National Development and the HDB will announce the details next week.

Asked why the move was not mandatory, a BCA spokesman noted that many lifts already have some recommended features such as the automatic rescue device.

"Existing lifts, with proper use, regular maintenance and inspections, are safe to use. However, they can be further enhanced to make them more reliable and improve their performance," he added.

The BCA's list of features is based on industry consultation and benchmarked against safety standards, taking into account findings from lift audit checks and recent lift incidents here and abroad.

An international panel of experts supported the idea of voluntary modernisation and the list of items.

Industry players said the recommended features are common in newer lifts, but may be hard to install in lifts older than 20 years.

Lifts installed since 2009 have to comply with official standards that prescribe some of these features, noted Ken-Jo Industries managing director Kenneth Lim. For older lifts, the ease of retrofitting varies by feature, he said, adding: "You need to see whether the structure and the design make it feasible."

Dr Lai Weng Chuen, a committee member of the Singapore Lift & Escalator Contractors & Manufacturers Association, said it might be better to simply replace very old lifts.

"Sometimes, the cost (of retrofitting) may be so prohibitive that it makes sense to overhaul," he said.

Property manager AsiaMalls Management confirmed that its lifts already have four of the eight recommended features. It is checking whether its lifts also comply with the remaining four.

"We work closely with the BCA and are committed to working in partnership with them to ensure all the lifts in our six malls are fully compliant," said AsiaMalls Management managing director Tan Kee Yong.

The BCA is working to improve the lift industry in other ways. To attract workers, it is looking at setting out a defined career path for lift technicians and industry professionals, to "provide clarity... and boost confidence about their prospects in the industry".

For lift maintenance, the BCA is reviewing whether to have a structured methodology. It is also looking at using remote monitoring and diagnostics to raise productivity.

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