The seven-member Consumer Safety Investigation Commission, which was inaugurated in October, has chosen five accidents as initial targets for investigation.

It is hoped that the accomplishments of the commission will live up to people’s expectations. The commission is headed by Mr. Yotaro Hatamura, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, who had also headed the government’s committee to investigate the 3/11 catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The commission has appointed eight experts to carry out the actual investigations and 19 others to examine the results. The public is encouraged to share accident-related information by telephone: 03-3507-9268.

The five accidents chosen as initial targets of the commission’s investigation are the June 2006 accident in Minato Ward, Tokyo, in which a 16-year-old boy died when he was exiting a Schindler elevator with his bicycle and it suddenly ascended with the doors open and crushed him; the November 2005 death of a university student in Minato Ward due to carbon monoxide released by a Paloma water heater; the April 2009 “falling death” from an escalator in a commercial building in Minato Ward; and two other accidents. The commission did not disclose the details of the last two accidents on the grounds that the disclosure would hamper the investigation.

In the case of the elevator accident, a quick and thorough investigation is required because a 63-year-old cleaning woman was also crushed to death in an accident involving a Schindler elevator at a Kanazawa hotel on Oct. 31. The Kanazawa accident is reported to have happened under the same circumstances as the Minato Ward accident. The commission decided not to make the Kanazawa elevator accident an initial target of investigation apparently under the assumption that if the cause of the elevator accident in Minato Ward is determined, similar accidents can be prevented. With regard to the Kanazawa accident, though, the commission will receive and analyze information from the infrastructure and transport ministry, which has begun its own investigation of the accident.

The commission should thoroughly investigate both the Minato Ward and Kanazawa accidents to better enable it to work out precise measures for preventing such accidents. It also should examine the corporate culture at Schindler, which has been less than fully cooperative with investigators.

After the Minato Ward accident, the infrastructure and transport ministry revised the enforcement order for the Building Standards Act. The revised order requires the installment of protective equipment, including an auxiliary brake, to stop an elevator if it starts moving with the doors open. The requirement applies only to new elevators. The Kanazawa elevator, which was installed in 1998, lacks such protective equipment, as do 700,000 other elevators across the nation.

This year the government started to provide subsidies to cover one-third of the cost of installing the new equipment in elevators. But applicants for the subsidies must clear several hurdles. To make elevators safer, the government should ease the conditions for receiving these subsidies.

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