A lift technician died while carrying out lift repair work. Here’s why you should care

Just when we were chasing the tail end of the short February month and hoping for a safer month come March, there came the news of a lift technician who died while carrying out repair work on the top of a lift car when it ascended and trapped him against the lift’s guide rail structure.

The lift technician was trapped in a narrow gap between the lift carriage and the metal support structure of the lift at Chan Brothers Building. The carriage was between the second and third floors.

Lifts and escalators play a very important part in our city lifestyle. Have you thought about how many lifts and escalators you take everyday?

For me, a typical workday would see me taking 34 trips(!!) in lifts and on escalators on a typical workday, starting from home to office, with a lunch run, a coffee break and then MRT ride home.

We’re lucky we live in efficient Singapore and 99.99% of the times, the lifts and escalators are working. In fact, they work so smoothly that we take them for granted.

But a lot happens in the background to be this efficient. Did you think lift and escalator technicians only show up when there’s a breakdown? Nope, lots of scheduled maintenance to make everything run so smoothly.

A couple of years ago, CNA did a story on how lifts in HDB flats are maintained. I don’t think that story caught fire and went viral. I guess the topic was just not very sexy.

But really, a lot of blood, sweat and tears are behind the smooth running of our lifts and escalators all day err day.

Here’s the photo-story of what goes on behind the scenes of lift maintenance in a HDB block.

Meet Mr Vellavan Krishnan, a lift technician in his late 50s. His job is to go around carrying out maintenance and repair works of HDB lifts.

Now, let him show us what it takes to keep an old lift in an old HDB block in the old Tanglin Halt estate running.

I cannot stress enough how important this job is, especially taking into consideration how there’re many senior folks living in this area. If without the lifts, many of them will not be able to venture out of their homes. If the lifts are not properly maintained and break down often, these senior folks might also be trapped inside.

Vellavan said this particular Tanglin Halt lift is actually a very old lift. Maybe 20-25 years, and not easy to maintain as technology was not as advanced back in the day.

Maintenance work is scheduled on a monthly basis. So every month, Vellavan pops into the area to carry out maintenance work on the lift.

First, Vellavan checks out the Motor Room.

He checks on the controller first – motor, sensors, switches, everything.

Then he moves and checks everything else in the Motor Room, tightening every screw, making sure everything is in working condition.

Next, Vellavan moves on to set the lift into maintenance mode.

The next time you see your lift under maintenance, remember to say a quick Thank You to all the technicians working hard to keep our lifts running and safe.

Then comes the important task of examining the traction machine, yes, this is the beast that hoists the lift up and down.

Once the traction machine’s OK, Vellavan moves on to Stage 2.

He’ll go to the top of the block and get into the lift shaft and start from there. In this case, he starts from 10th storey.

What happens here is Vellavan will bring the car lift down, floor by floor, to check everything.

He’ll check the car doors, the car tops and also the motors, including oiling them up and cleaning them up.

He’s also on the lookout for wear and tear and also parts that might fail in the coming days or weeks, and recommend to have them replaced.

The work not only calls for a high level of expertise and experience, it’s also dangerous and rough.

You see, you see, no fan, not even lights in the hoistway! Can you even imagine how hot and stuffy it is???

Here’s a clearer look at the hoistway and what Vellavan has to maneuver when carrying out the maintenance work.

Now, I’d mentioned earlier that Vellavan is 57 years young, right? (Yeps, that’s at the point of filming in 2019).

This brings me to the whole point of this article.

Let me share some key statistics.

  • There are 67,000 lifts in Singapore, and this is set to grow to 70,000 in the years ahead.
  • There are now 2,100 lift technicians in Singapore, and we will need more to cope with increased demand and the attrition of existing technicians.
  • Out of these 2,100 lift technicians, only 42% are Singapore residents.
  • Out of this 42% of Singapore residents, more than half are 50yo and above and are expected to retire in 10-15 years.

We have an ageing workforce in the L&E industry, and it’s clear that we have a problem in our hands.

Attracting Singapore residents into the industry is a top priority.

Now, considering how important this work is, and how potentially dangerous it is and how rough the working conditions are, how much do you think the L&E technicians are earning currently?

Well, the base salary at entry level is only $1,300 – $1,600 *GASP!*

In this industry, there’s a fair bit of overtime (OT), and the OT pay easily makes up half of the gross salary. But still, with a base salary that low, the total take-home after OT is still not terribly attractive.

For comparison’s sake, the starting pay of a bus captain is $1,950.

So why do you think the L&E industry has not been able to attract new and young blood? Go figure.

But we cannot just leave things as they are, can we? Lifts and escalators are such an important part of our lives, and it doesn’t take a genius to tell that we will just be building more and more high-rise buildings. So we will be needing more and more L&E technicians.

We would need to address three key areas – better wages, higher skills, and better working conditions.

Good news! The Sectoral Tripartite Committee’s PWM recommendations for L&E technicians will come into effect in 2022.

The aim is to attract locals to join the lift industry and retain them through continual upgrading under the Progressive Wage Model (PWM).

It would also help prevent possible wage “reset” each time a service contract is renewed due to cheap outsourcing.

The proposed PWM will cover four key areas: better jobs, higher skills, better remuneration and raising productivity.

Source: Labourbeat by NTUC

The proposed PWM serves to provide two progression pathways for lift technicians. The supervisory track offers opportunities to progress and build up management capabilities, while the specialist track caters to those who prefer to deepen their technical skillsets.

I shall leave you with this lovely story shared by NTUC’s labour MP Koh Poh Koon in his budget debate speech last month,

I recall the story of Brother Dickson Tong, my Union Leader in Metal Industries Workers’ Union (MIWU). Brother Dickson is a senior lift technician with Hitachi Elevator Asia. He remembered being rather fearful after being stuck in a lift when he was just five years old. To his young mind, the lift technician who came to his rescue was like a super-hero. Imagine in a dark lift and the door opens, this lift technician has a halo of light around him, coming from the outside. This has inspired him to join the lift maintenance sector. In the past 20 years as a lift technician, he kept up with the technological advances in his area of work, ensuring that he had the skills to stay relevant. Now with the recommendations of the Lift & Escalator Sectoral Tripartite Committee, Brother Dickson and other lift technicians can look forward to two career progression pathways: supervisory or specialist tracks, where skills are the benchmark for career progression with corresponding salary increases. The implementation of PWM in this sector will hopefully attract more new entrants for a more fulfilling career. And hopefully we’ll have more super-heroes amongst us waiting to rescue anyone who may be stuck.

Soooo… happy to see that these very essential workers who do such important work are fairly rewarded and have better progression and prospects.

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I spend my days wishing it's night, and when night falls, I morph into a happy person. I specialist in overthinking things, and obsessing over the meaning of life or sometimes, the lack of.