As aging, overused elevators go up, so does the potential for accidents, the top quality watchdog has warned.
Old, creaking machinery coupled with increased demand could endanger users, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine revealed to China Daily in an e-mail.
China is the world’s largest manufacturer and user of elevators. More than 2 million were in use by the end of 2011, and the figure continues to rise by 20 percent annually, according to the administration.
“Authorities are facing greater pressure supervising safety in the elevator and escalator industry and this is a growing concern among the public,” the statement said.
There were 20 fatalities from January to September in 28 serious elevator accidents.
One incident saw a 35-year-old tourist from Hunan plunge to her death when she stepped into the shaft in a department store in Shanghai in September.
The mortality rate per 10,000 elevators is below 0.2, similar to some developed countries, the administration said.
But authorities believe that as equipment ages, especially if it is more than a decade old, the risk of accidents increases.
About 80 percent of elevator accidents in Beijing were due to poor maintenance, said Miao Busheng, chairman of the Beijing Elevator Commerce Committee.
Elevators should undergo regular maintenance every two weeks but there is no legal requirement to take elevators out of use after a mandated period.
Property management companies usually outsource maintenance to professional companies.
There are about 300 such companies in Beijing and they have fewer than 50,000 technicians in charge of maintaining more than 130,000 elevators.
But there are only 13 large maintenance companies and each are responsible for about 1,000 elevators. The remainder are serviced by small firms.
Jia Jia, a manager at Beijing Jiuzhou Elevator Installation Co, one of the 13 maintenance companies, said their work has increased as more buildings have elevators and property management companies are investing less in the equipment, which leads to more breakdowns.
Each technician in the company regularly checks about 30 elevators every month.
“But I know many other companies that have a much greater workload and this could lead to shortcuts,” Jia said.
The maintenance cost for each elevator is at least 6,000 yuan ($960) a year, “but many property management companies will cut it to 3,000 yuan to reduce expense, and will choose the companies that do it cheaper rather than focus on safety”.
Miao agreed, saying maintenance expenditure should be released to ensure that adequate upgrades have been carried out.
“The government shoulders large responsibility on this issue, especially in supervision,” he said, adding that his organization has been asked to support supervision since 2011. “Cooperation between the government and NGOs will help regulate the market.”
The industry association inspected 60 maintenance companies in Beijing between May and October, exposing a number of problems.
“Safety checks and maintenance were just empty terms in some buildings, as they were never carried out,” Miao said.