Escalating risks

Workers inspect the escalators outside the Tianjin Railway Station on July 12 after an accident killed a boy in Beijing. Photo: CFP

An outbreak of escalator and elevator accidents earlier this month in several major cities in China has highlighted the hidden dangers of the fast-growing escalator business.

In a Beijing accident on July 5 a subway escalator on Subway Line 4 suddenly reversed direction killing a 13-year-old boy and injuring 30. A similar accident occurred May 5 in a shopping mall in Shanghai, injuring a pregnant woman and nine others.

A high-profile inspection of facilities in crowded areas launched nationwide since July 6 found some 160 unsafe escalators in several railway stations in Beijing and four subway station escalators without reversal blocks in Shanghai, according to an earlier report by the Global Times.

Cheap, but not safe
Wan Jianru, professor of Mechanical and Electronic Engineering at Tianjin University, worries the fast development of escalators and elevators in China, as well as fast production output puts quality in doubt, reported the Economic Observer newspaper Sunday.

At the end of last year there were 1.6 million escalators and elevators in China. The number goes up by 300,000 annually, accounting for half the world’s increase. By 2020, the number is expected to reach 2 million, according to statistics released by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) Friday.

According to the China Government Procurement Newspaper, Chinese government purchased 2 billion yuan ($309 million) worth of elevators and escalators last year, a record high.

An insider from the elevator business told the Global Times competition among producers is getting fierce and normally the ones who offer the lowest prices win the bidding.

“It turns the trade into a vicious circle. In order to compete with small local producers, many big foreign producers have to lower their prices by cutting down their costs and choosing cheaper materials. For instance, the thickness of the steel is cut from 2 centimeters to 1.5 centimeters,” he said.

Mou Busheng, chief of the Beijing Elevator Commerce Chamber, suggested the government take measures to intervene in price wars among producers.

“If it continues like this, without any intervention, it will cause a lot of safety hazards for the elevators in the country,” he said.

Weakest link
However, the weakest link in the production chain lies in elevator maintenance, according to Professor Wan.

Most escalators and elevators in China were introduced after 2002 and have been in operation for almost a decade, the Economic Observer reported.

Elevator Service Management and Daily Maintenance Regulation stipulates elevator maintenance companies should provide elevator maintenance every 15 days. Many proprietors tend to choose a third company for daily maintenance when their escalators pass the warranty period because it’s cheaper, said the report.

“But the service delivered by many small maintenance companies in the market is questionable,” Mou said.

The average maintenance cost for a 20-floor building is 600 yuan ($93) per month. High-end service of elevator maintenance could cost 1,000 yuan ($155) per month.

“But some small companies do the job at an unimaginably low price. And many property management companies don’t care about the quality of the job as long as the cost is low,” Gong Zhi, a manager of Shanghai Zhiqiu Elevator Maintenance Company, said.

In addition, the maintenance work is high-risk. “Once a worker dies at work, it could cost the company a total of 700,000 yuan ($108,000),” he told the Global Times.

An average of 30 people died and 40 accidents have occurred on the country’s elevators and escalators every year since 2005.
Sixty-three percent of the accidents were due to operation errors and nearly 30 percent of the victims were technical workers including repair workers, installation workers and operation workers, according the AQSIQ.

A recent such accident was reported in Shanghai last month. An elevator repair worker fell to his death while working on a 57-story office building on June 27, according to the Shanghai Public Security Bureau.

With all the existing safety hazards in elevator production and maintenance, Mou is worried the current inspection and supervision work, all carried out by two organs under the AQSIQ, is not effective enough.

“If the work can be done by a professional company, it will become more transparent,” he said.  

Source: Globle Times

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