Hidden danger hazards big city living

Updated: 2012-10-07 09:19

By He Na (China Daily)

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Death from above

While Xu Dajiang in Harbin is busy looking down at the road, many other people are keeping their eyes firmly fixed above them, to prevent being hit by a falling glass curtain wall.

Liu Ting, who runs a fast food restaurant franchise in Shenzhen, said she is forever warning her husband to be wary when walking next to tall buildings during business trips.

"These glass walls are like time bombs," said the 31-year-old, who is expecting a baby in November. "I was almost hit by glass as it crashed down from Baifu Mansion in April last year. I was terrified.

"I bought a lottery ticket that night," she said, referring to the Chinese saying that if someone survives a tragedy they will enjoy good luck for the rest of their life. "Now, whenever I read or hear about a similar event, I get the same terrible feeling."

As Chinese cities have started to resemble their glitzy Western counterparts, with modern designs and skyscrapers wrapped in glass, aesthetic beauty has brought with it this hidden danger.

In recent years, poorly fitted or maintained design features have damaged property and injured a number of people, including a 19-year-old woman in Hangzhou whose leg was virtually severed below the knee by a shard of glass that plummeted from the 21st floor of an office tower.

Hidden danger hazards big city living

Towering glass-walled structures have become ubiquitous in Chinese cities. Yet, accidents involving falling glass have spooked many people. Experts say it is unclear who is responsible for maintenance. [Photo/China Daily]

Glass curtain walls began appearing in China in the 1980s. They generally have a design life of 25 years, although the bolts and adhesives only last 10 to 15 years.

"Just like people need physical checkups, glass curtain walls need to be checked, maintained or replaced regularly to maximize their service life," said Yu Hui, a professor of architecture at Dalian University of Technology. "It's common sense, but no one wants to do it because of the high costs involved.

"So far, we have no clear guidelines on who should be responsible for maintenance of these walls, so when accidents happen, victims often find it hard to claim compensation," he said.

Lu Jinlong, an assistant chief engineer at the Shanghai Research Institute of Building Sciences, suggested authorities do more to avoid accidents, such as building or increasing green areas around buildings to act as buffer zones.

Most important, he added, China's technical code for glass curtain walls, introduced in 1996, urgently needs to be updated.

But glass walls are not even the half of it, according to Li Dongsheng, who moved to Beijing from Hunan province six months ago to look after his newborn grandson. He sees danger everywhere.

"The capital has such strong winds, so you have to pay attention to the advertising billboardings, too," the 56-year-old said. "Also, escalators," he went on, referring to a spate of fatal accidents last year. "We use the stairs now, because I worry about the escalator reversing direction."

And it does not stop there. "On crosswalks, you have to watch carefully, as drivers go through red lights and may hit you," he warned. "Even at home, I now worry that our elevator may suddenly lose control, after reading reports about that happening in recent weeks".

In short, Li recommended city governments publish pamphlets that list the dangers and offer advice on how to stay safe.

"It'd be very useful for residents, especially those who have just arrived in cities from rural areas, like me," he said.

Contact the writer at hena@chinadaily.com.cn


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