When 1 lift accident is 1 too many

Lift-related accidents are not all that common but those which result in injury or death need serious attention, by the parties in charge of public safety.

One week ago, eight adults and a 10-year-old child survived a terrifying ride in a lift. The incident happened at Block C of the Kampung Kerinchi People’s Housing Project (PPR) in Kuala Lumpur.

The occupants suffered broken legs or ankles. The only person who was not injured, apart from being dazed, had clung to the button panel as the lift plummeted with its doors ajar.

A couple who had taken the lift to return to their 15th floor unit said it had stopped at the fifth floor so that a boy could get off. They said that if the boy had been a few seconds slower, his leg could have been chopped off as the lift suddenly plunged.

The Kerinchi tower block residents were lucky. Six years ago, in February 2013, a lift malfunctioned and plunged five floors at the 10-storey accommodation block of the Lumut naval base. The sole occupant was seriously injured and rushed to hospital.

A cable had snapped and struck the victim on the head and neck. She died the following day. Her husband, a naval officer, blamed the malfunction on lack of maintenance. Other residents had complained about weird rattling noises when the lift was in use.

There are five common lift problems: Worn sheaves (pulley system); power failure; contamination; bearing malfunction; and misaligned motor drive. Regular maintenance is necessary to ensure that lifts operate safely and efficiently.

In the past, the Institute of Engineers Malaysia (IEM) has issued press statements to say that lift tragedies could have been prevented with a good and committed maintenance programme.

So what happened at Kerinchi? Was it a freak accident, as postulated by Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad? The authorities had to summon experts from South Korea to carry out a detailed investigation.

The director-general of the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), Omar Mat Piah, ruled out vandalism because the motor room was out of bounds to unauthorised personnel and the lift doors could only be opened with a special key.

Khalid claimed that the Kerinchi lifts had been regularly maintained by Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) and a lifting equipment certificate (Sijil Permit Mesin Angkat) from DOSH was valid until January 2020.

To reassure the public, Khalid ordered the mayor to audit the lifts at other PPRs. Perhaps, the mayor should verify that lift maintenance is only performed by authorised lift vendors.

We know only too well that in Malaysia, and in some other parts of the world, irresponsible companies take short cuts and use shoddy equipment and inferior lubricants, and make less frequent maintenance checks, to save money.

Will Khalid’s ministry address such issues which crop up when lift accidents occur? Will his ministry address the industry shortage of technicians skilled in lift installation and maintenance?

Will the minister share the compilation of data collected from lift incidents throughout the nation over the past 10 years? How frequent are these accidents in public buildings? Did these incidents result in fatalities? How serious were the injuries?

What is our track record for lift incidents? What were the main causes of the malfunctions? Were they caused by vandals, poor maintenance or power outages? Was anyone prosecuted for shoddy workmanship or mismanagement?

There are many high rise buildings in the country, so lift maintenance should be a regulated industry. How scrupulous are the checks on the maintenance, examination and testing regimes? Do the results compiled by the ministry show a difference between lifts in the public and private sectors?

Let us not be complacent about public safety. We should not react only after an accident, when injuries are sustained or lives are lost.

So, was Kerinchi a freak accident?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.