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Following is a question by the Dr Hon Lo Wai-kwok and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council (March 20):
In an accident earlier this month in which a lift dropped suddenly, all four suspension cables of the lift involved had snapped, and its safety protection system had not functioned as designed to stop the lift from dropping. The authorities subsequently inspected the other lifts which were maintained by the contractor concerned, and found that quite a number of them had problems and had to suspend service immediately. It has been learnt that the ranking of the contractor in the “Registered Lift Contractors’ Performance Rating” of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) has all along been low. Some members of the public have pointed out that such incidents reflect that the regulatory system for the repair and maintenance of lifts is plagued with problems, and it fails to ensure proper repair and maintenance of lifts by contractors. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council
(a) whether, apart from issuing warning letters to the registered lift contractors with low ranking in performance rating for a long period of time and repeatedly involved in safety problems, the authorities have taken other follow-up measures targeting at such contractors; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) whether EMSD will, in the light of the aforesaid lift accident, conduct a comprehensive review of the regulatory system for the repair and maintenance of lifts, and correspondingly increase the resources needed and employ additional professional staff so as to step up its monitoring work; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(c) whether the authorities have considered stepping up publicity and promotion work, so as to provide guidance for property owners and property management companies on the factors (including the contractor’s manpower arrangements, past performance and performance scores, etc.) to be considered when selecting contractors for the repair and maintenance of their lifts; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(d) whether the authorities have conducted a comprehensive review to ascertain the number of lifts in Hong Kong which are so dilapidated that their replacement is required; whether the authorities have considered providing subsidies for property owners with financial hardship to pay the costs for such lift replacement works, to obviate the continued use of those lifts compellably; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(e) apart from enacting the Lifts and Escalators Ordinance (Cap. 618), which came into full operation on December 17, 2012, to enhance the safety standards for the repair and maintenance of lifts and to strengthen regulatory control, whether the authorities have any complementary measures to assist the trade in tackling its major business difficulties (e.g. vicious price competition, etc.), and to sort out the structural problems of the trade; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
The Lifts and Escalators Ordinance (the Ordinance), enacted in April 2012, came into full operation in December 2012. The Ordinance has introduced a series of enhanced regulatory measures against registered contractors. It clearly stipulates that registered contractors must ensure that their lift maintenance works are carried out properly and safely; increases the maximum fine from HK$10,000 to HK$200,000 with the maximum imprisonment period maintained at 12 months; introduces a registration renewal system under which registered contractors are required to renew their registration every five years; and empowers the Registrar to cancel or suspend the registration of registered contractors pursuant to the provisions of the Ordinance. On enforcement, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) conducts sample inspections on all lifts in Hong Kong on a risk-assessment basis to monitor the work of registered contractors. Furthermore, the EMSD implemented in June 2009 a Registered Lift Contractors Performance Rating Scheme (the Performance Rating Scheme) under which performance monitoring (PM) points of registered contractors are deducted according to an established mechanism for irregularities found by EMSD during inspections. The performance ratings of registered contractors are published quarterly to help lift owners or their property management companies select suitable contractors to carry out maintenance and repair works for their lifts.
My reply to the five parts of the question is as follows:
(a) Under the Performance Rating Scheme, the EMSD will issue warning letters to the registered contractors in the following cases:
(i) where a total of 12 or more PM points are deducted for non-compliant items found in a single lift during inspection; or
(ii) over 4 PM points are deducted on average within a 12-month period.
Registered contractors who have received a total of three warning letters may be subject to disciplinary hearings. Besides, the EMSD will take appropriate enforcement actions against registered contractors for non-compliances or disciplinary offences found in the course of inspections, including initiating prosecutions or requesting for setting up disciplinary boards to conduct disciplinary hearings.
In the past three years, the EMSD has issued 23 warning letters as mentioned. Besides, the EMSD convicted four registered contractors on 11 charges in the past three years. At the request of the Director of Electrical and Mechanical Services, the Secretary for Development has set up two disciplinary boards to conduct disciplinary hearings on the performance of registered contractors.
(b) The EMSD is reviewing the monitoring mechanism for maintenance and repair works for lifts in the wake of an incident occurred at North Point in early March. One of the measures under consideration is factoring in flexibility and specific targets to the spot check ratio. For instance, lifts maintained by contractors with poor performance ratings, has long years of service and are of models with record of frequent breakdowns would be subject to more frequent spot checks. The Administration will set up a Lift and Escalator Safety Advisory Committee shortly. The Committee will comprise members drawing from both inside and outside the trade, including property management companies and consumers, in order to take in the views of various sectors on ways to ensure the safe operation of lifts and escalators.
With respect to manpower resources, the EMSD obtained approval in 2010 for creating eight new posts (including the ranks of engineers and inspectors) to strengthen regulation for the safety of lifts and escalators. After the Ordinance has come into full operation, the EMSD continues to conduct audit inspections according to a risk-based approach and strictly enforce the provisions of the Ordinance. The Administration will review from time to time manpower situation to ensure that appropriate resources are allocated for law enforcement and public education work.
(c) Through issuing Guidebook for Responsible Persons for Lifts and conducting talks, the EMSD publicises and promotes the following message to property owners and management companies. When selecting contractors for maintaining their lifts in safe working order, they are encouraged to also consider other factors in addition to price. These factors include manpower resources, technical support and past performance (including records of incidents and warning letters as well as performance ratings) of the contractors. Since 2012, the EMSD has held over 30 talks for over 3 000 property owners, management companies’ representatives and trade practitioners. The Administration will conduct a comprehensive review on the publicity and promotion work, with a view to raising the public’s awareness of lift safety and drawing their attention to the factors that should be considered when selecting contractors.
(d) The Ordinance provides that every lift, irrespective of their years of service, must undergo maintenance works by a registered contractor at least once a month and examination by a registered engineer at least once a year. For ensuring public safety, the EMSD will not issue Use Permits to lifts that fail to meet the safety standards under examination, irrespective of their years of service. To help property owners maintain and repair their lifts, the EMSD issued the Guidelines on Modernising Existing Lifts in December 2011. It also launched a series of publicity activities. In addition to technical support, the Administration offers the following three kinds of financial assistance to help lift owners in need to carry out lift maintenance works:
(i) subsidies are available to owners of old and dilapidated buildings for carrying out repair and maintenance works, including lift maintenance works, under the Integrated Building Maintenance Assistance Scheme which is administered jointly by the Urban Renewal Authority and the Hong Kong Housing Society;
(ii) interest free loans are available to eligible property owners for repair works, including lift works, under the Building Safety Loan Scheme of the Buildings Department; and
(iii) assistance are available to owner-occupiers for maintenance and repair works to their properties and common areas, including lifts, under the Building Maintenance Grant Scheme for Elderly Owners administered by the Hong Kong Housing Society.
(e) Some trade practitioners reflected that the trade faced problems of price competition and shortage of new entrants.
On price competition, besides stepping up regulation against registered contractors to protect public safety, we will also enhance publicity and promotion work mentioned in part (c) above to urge people to be mindful of factors other than price in selecting contractors to ensure safety. The EMSD will continue to publish the performance ratings of registered contractors regularly to help property owners and property management companies make informed choices in selecting appropriate registered contractors. These measures will enable registered contractors to bid for contracts at reasonable prices and improve their operating environment. The trade will also be better placed to make investments in manpower.
Various measures have been put in place to enhance the professional status of engineers, strengthen training and improve the working environment in order to attract more entrants to the trade. Details are as follows.
(i) Enhancing the professional status of the workers
The registration regime for workers introduced under the Ordinance to replace the employer-tied arrangement, provides workers with more flexibility in choosing jobs and bargaining power in negotiating remuneration packages.
(ii) Strengthening training
Currently, the Construction Industry Council is deliberating with the Hong Kong Federation of Electrical and Mechanical Contractors, the Lift and Escalator Contractors’ Association and the Vocational Training Council (VTC) on ways to provide more training for electrical and mechanical trade in construction industry. To increase the manpower for the trade, they have agreed in principle to introduce the Contractor Cooperative Training Scheme for the electrical and mechanical trade of the construction industry and provide assistance to those trainees who intend to join the ranks of electrical and mechanical apprentices after completing VTC’s basic craft courses in electrical and mechanical engineering.
(iii) Improving working conditions
The EMSD has been working from time to time with the trade and in the light of the latest developments in the industry to review and update the Code of Practice for Lift Works and Escalator Works (CoP) with a view to raising the requirements on working conditions. For instance, the CoP has recently introduced a new provision that required contractors to assess and confirm that the environmental factors, such as temperature, ventilation, lightings, etc., inside the lift shaft are suitable before commencing works.