Church lift that killed woman did not meet minimum safety standards: BCA

SINGAPORE - A church lift which malfunctioned and killed a woman was not installed by an approved contractor and had never been maintained before the accident on May 16 last year.

In fact, the lift, for use of the elderly and disabled, did not meet minimum standards for safety.

These findings were revealed by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) during a coroner's inquiry yesterday into the death of Filipina maid Clarita Abanes, who was 46.

Ms Abanes had helped an elderly parishioner into the lift, not noticing that the lift car was still above them. As they went inside, it came down, pinning them underneath for an hour.

The 82-year-old woman survived the accident at the Church of St Michael but Ms Abanes died of her head injuries a week later.

Mr Hashim Mansoor, director of BCA's building plan and management group, told the court that the lift was installed by Aspire Elevator in 2006 and repaired by Access Safety Technologies in 2010. Neither is a registered BCA lift contractor.

The authority had told The Straits Times at the time of the accident that the lift was not registered with the authority and did not have documents to show it had been maintained and tested.

The coroner heard how the church's parish priest, Father Peter Tan, had told Mr Hashim and a team of BCA engineers investigating the accident that the lift had not been maintained or inspected since it was installed.

Mr Hashim said the investigations showed there were serious safety lapses which would have been spotted if the lift had been properly maintained. "It would not meet the standards. There were open-end wires and electrical shock hazards," he said.

One safety breach was that the doors could be opened while the lift was in motion.

This was how Ms Abanes was able to walk into the lift shaft just as the lift car was descending.

It should not start moving unless the three landing doors in the three-storey church were closed.

When questioned by State Counsel Kumaresan Gohulabalan, Father Peter said he was not aware that only registered lift contractors can install lifts and added that he had tried to get contractors for the maintenance.

But several turned him down, saying they did not know how to do the job.

Ms Abanes' cousin, Ms Lolita Calera, also a maid, and officials from the Philippine Embassy were present at the inquiry.

Ms Calera said Father Peter's explanation that he could not find a contractor to maintain the lift was unacceptable.

"If he tried harder to find someone to check the lift, this would not have happened to Clarita," she said.

The state coroner will make his findings on Aug 26.

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