Motion on “Ensuring Occupational Safety” (2014.11.26)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): The number of industrial accidents and related fatal casualties remains high in Hong Kong, with the number of industrial accidents exceeding 5 400 early this year. Although the total number of accidents has decreased from that recorded a couple of years ago, heavy casualties are expected with the continued roll-out of a substantial number of projects which are going to draw more workers to the front-line of construction sites.

We have no ways to fully prevent accidents from happening but we should be able to help expedite the rehabilitation of injured workers. Today, I would like to spend more time speaking on the issue of rehabilitation and presenting a research project sponsored by the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers.

We are all aware that facilitating the rehabilitation of injured workers not only helps them recover speedily, reduce the damage inflicted by industrial injuries, but also enables them to resume their normal life as early as possible. However, Hong Kong has all along been lagging behind in this respect. Under the present healthcare system, injured workers are mostly treated with painkiller before they can have a chance to receive specialized treatment several months later. However, during the course of receiving specialized treatment, they are frequently referred from one specialist to another in a way like a ball passed around a group, with absolutely no one managing the overall co-ordination nor following up on their return-to-work status after rehabilitation. The present system fails to provide maximum benefits for the injured, but rather leaves them helpless and without support.

In addition, injured workers are mostly orthopedic patients. If they are not treated appropriately in the rehabilitation process, including not being treated under an orthopedics work rehabilitation concept, they may lose the golden chance for rehabilitation intervention, will not be able to regain the best physiological functions and thus may have to endure a lengthier recovery or even long-term disability.

To help examine issues about occupational rehabilitation management, the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers has sponsored the “Multidisciplinary Orthopedics Rehabilitation Empowerment Program” (the Program), a study conducted by the Department of Orthopedics and Traumatology of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), which features the concept of orthopedics work injuries. As orthopedic doctors have a comprehensive understanding of the treatment workflow for work injuries, their participation as main co-ordinator in orthopedics work injury rehabilitation provides early intervention for patients, enabling better co-ordination among various specialized treatments, and thus bringing about greater benefits to patients, achieving the goal of speedy recovery.

The workflow of the Program is as follows: First, taking up case referral of patients who were injured on duty and consequently suffer from lower back pain; second, arranging the injured for magnetic resonance imaging test; third, providing professional advice, formulating rehabilitation plan and co-ordinating with other specialists by the orthopedic doctor; fourth, implementing the rehabilitation plan, including the provision of occupational therapy and physiotherapy; and fifth, conducting work injury assessment and co-ordinating with the employer for return-to-work arrangement of the rehabilitated worker by the case manager.

The Program has achieved encouraging results so far. According to the information provided by the CUHK, a total of 183 patients has participated in the Program since its inauguration in 2011 till June this year. All the Program participants are able to return to work earlier, receive medical assessment referrals earlier and have shorter sick leaves. On average, participants return to work in 7.6 months after the injury. When compared to those who were injured similarly but needing 13.7 months to return to work, the research findings are startling as they reveal that injured workers can shorten the time needed for a complete recovery by half. These workers are just fettered by the present system and suffer undue delay in rehabilitation.

Work rehabilitation requires multifarious contribution from society, including the participation by employers, which is critically vital. As of now, there is no formal channel in place within the existing healthcare system for rehabilitated workers to communicate with their employers, leaving out a function to be taken up by the case manager in the Program. The case manager under the Program can enhance the communication between the employer and the employee, facilitating the worker’s smooth resumption of duty. As an injured worker can receive treatment earlier, he recovers sooner and resumes duty promptly. Moreover, the employer can thus reduce the loss resulting from employee’s sick leave and the hospital can spare more time looking after other patients. The outcome is indeed an all-win situation.

CUHK indicated that the research was only a preliminary clinical study, further study would be needed for a more comprehensive research result. However, the model devised by the Program which allows injured employees to receive the most appropriate treatment within the shortest period is certainly worthy of reference. At present, the policy on work injury rehabilitation in Hong Kong is underdeveloped and hopefully the research by and the development of the Program can help advance occupational injury rehabilitation. The research scholar concerned further hopes that a public work injury rehabilitation medical centre can be established in Hong Kong for the general public in the future.

My amendment today seeks to point out that the lack of policy on work injury rehabilitation in Hong Kong at present is impeding the rehabilitation progress of injured workers. The Program shows that a good work injury rehabilitation scheme benefits the employer, the employee and the society at the same time. Similar work injury rehabilitation schemes are found commonly in foreign countries and their effectiveness has long been recognized. Therefore, I suggest various sectors in society join hands in the research and promotion of the schemes concerned, with a view to bringing advantages to work injured workers and subsequently to the rest of the society.

I would also like to comment on Mr TANG Ka-piu’s amendment in which he suggests the setting up of a central occupational insurance compensation fund. I have reiterated time and again that as employees’ compensation insurance has long been plagued by insurance fraud (including individual fraud and syndicated fraud), the insurance industry sustains long-term losses consequently. A government-operated employees’ compensation insurance scheme will only impose a heavy burden to the Treasury. As the Government works less efficiently than the private sector but at higher salary costs, undoubtedly it is harder for the Government to achieve a balance when privately-run employees’ compensation insurance schemes are suffering from severe losses. In the end, when public money is used to subsidize the shortfall, a lot more problems will be created. Therefore, I oppose the amendment put forward by Mr TANG Ka-piu.

I so submit.

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