Council Meetings (Question): Rise in Industrial Accidents in the Construction Industry(2012.01.11)

Question by Hon KP Chan on Industrial Accidents in the Construction Industry at the Legislative Council on January 11th, 2012

A serious industrial accident occurred recently at a works site of the Government’s Water Supplies Department (WSD) where a worker was killed in an explosion on his first day of work. Industrial accidents occurred frequently in Hong Kong’s construction industry in recent years and just last month, a worker was crushed to death by a crane at a hospital’s construction site, and the body of a worker was pierced through by two steel reinforcement bars in another accident, etc. Fatal industrial accidents involving construction workers in Hong Kong last year surged by 144% as compared to those in 2010, and the fatal accident rate per 1 000 construction workers was as high as 0.4, which was nearly 17 times the rate of only 0.024 in the United Kingdom in 2010. In addition, the accident rate per 1 000 construction workers in Hong Kong in 2010 was 52.1, which was also higher than the rate of 40 in the United States in the same year by over 30%. Following the commencement of a number of major infrastructure projects (including the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, etc) one after another in the coming year, as well as the implementation of the mandatory requirements for inspection of old buildings, the number of renovation and repair and maintenance works will increase, with regard to enhancing the safety of construction workers in Hong Kong, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the reasons why the accident/injury rates per 1 000 workers in the construction industry in Hong Kong are still much higher than those in foreign countries;

(b) given that in the first three quarters last year, the Labour Department had stepped up its special enforcement efforts whereby the number of inspections conducted and the number of warnings issued increased respectively by about 10% and 20% when compared to those in the same period of 2010, of the reasons why the number of fatal accidents in the construction industry still increased substantially, and whether such reasons include the current enforcement efforts not being fast enough, broad enough and sufficiently in-depth;

(c) given that at present there is no regulation of workers’ overtime work and employers and employees are left to work it out between themselves, and it has been reported that the aforesaid accident of a worker being seriously injured by steel reinforcement bars piercing through his body was suspected to be related to the worker having to working overtime for a long period and he did not have enough rest, whether the authorities will consider amending the labour law to regulate the overtime working hours for workers engaged in high-risk industries, so as to ensure that workers can have enough rest; and of the respective numbers of industrial accidents resulting in injuries and deaths in the construction industry last year which occurred when the workers were working overtime;

(d) given that the construction industry has engaged many foreign workers in recent years, and a worker who died after being hit on the head by a falling stone at an MTR construction site last year was a Nepalese, while a bar bender who slipped and fell to his death at a construction site in Ma On Shan was a Vietnamese, whether the authorities have reviewed if the occupational safety support provided to foreign workers in the construction industry at present is adequate;

(e) given that among the types of industrial accidents in the construction industry, the numbers of those caused by “slip, trip or fall on same level” and “stepping on object” are increasing of substantially, whether the authorities will put forward effective improvement measures as soon as possible; and

(f) given that under the existing Construction Sites (Safety) Regulations (Cap. 59I), workers are not required to conduct tests for underground gases before carrying out general excavation works, whether, after the aforesaid serious industrial accident at a works site of WSD resulting in a worker killed and three others injured, the authorities have reviewed if there is any inadequacy in the Regulations?

Written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung:

My reply to the Hon Chan Kin-por’s question is set out below:

(a) Different countries/regions have different definitions of construction industry, calculations of the construction workforce and requirements for accident reporting. For example, in some countries, the definition of construction industry only includes those construction projects with contract sums exceeding a specified amount, construction workers do not include imported workers, or reporting of industrial accidents is not a statutory requirement. It is therefore inappropriate to compare Hong Kong’s industrial accident figures or accident rate of the construction industry with those of other countries/regions. Indeed, in the past decade (between 2001 and 2010), there had been a continuous improvement to the safety performance of Hong Kong’s construction industry. The number of industrial accidents in the construction industry dropped from 9 206 to 2 884 (a decline of 68.7%) and the accident rate (per 1 000 workers) from 114.6 to 52.1 (a decline of 54.5%)

(b) We are very concerned about the increase in construction industry accidents in 2011. The number of industrial fatalities was 22, compared with 9 in 2010. We noted that the commencement of major infrastructure projects as well as the forthcoming implementation of mandatory requirements for the inspection of old buildings would pose challenges to the occupational safety and health performance of the construction industry. The Labour Department (LD) has stepped up inspections and enforcement actions since early 2011. In addition to 40 000-plus regular inspections each year, LD launched in 2011 a total of six territory-wide special enforcement operations focusing on new works as well as repair, maintenance, alteration and addition (RMAA) works, with around 8 200 workplaces inspected, about 410 Suspension Notices/Improvement Notices issued (an increase of about 93% over 2010), and some 290 prosecutions initiated (an increase of about 34% over 2010). Through these special enforcement operations, LD has put across the clear message to the industry that LD’s inspecting officers would take immediate enforcement action without warning upon discovery of breaches of the occupational safety legislation which could result in injuries or death of workers.

Regarding the commencement of major infrastructure projects, LD has established a special task force to step up inspections and enforcement action, urge contractors to implement safety management systems on construction sites and integrate occupational safety and health elements into their method statements through participating in project preparatory meetings and site safety committees meetings. In addition, LD has stepped up area patrols and inspections of RMAA works during non-office hours to deter contractors from adopting unsafe work practices.

(c) To protect the occupational safety and health of employees, LD has issued a “Guide on Rest Breaks” to remind employers and employees of the importance of rest breaks. Since no single pattern of rest break arrangement can suit the divergent operations of various trades and businesses, the guide encourages employers, in consultation with employees, to work out rest break arrangements suitable for the employees as well as meeting operational needs of the business. LD has been publicising the guide through different channels (including internet) and promotional activities. LD does not compile separate statistics on the number of industrial accidents which occurred when the workers were working overtime.

(d) To enhance the occupational safety and health awareness of foreign construction workers, LD has produced construction safety and health publications and promotional materials in Urdu, Bahasa Indonesia, Hindi, Thai, Nepali and Filipino, in addition to Chinese and English for free distribution to ethnic minorities. The publications are uploaded to LD’s homepage. LD has also collaborated with the ethnic minorities services centres, non-government organisations, trade associations and unions to organise seminars, talks, workshops and other promotional functions, as well as visits to construction sites to convey safety message directly to ethnic minorities workers.

(e) LD has analysed the accident statistics of last year and will strengthen enforcement, publicity and promotion this year, targeting the high-risk processes at construction sites such as work-at-height and lifting operations. The number of accidents related to “slip, trip or fall on same level” and “stepping on object” in the first half of 2011 were higher than the average figures over the same period in the past five years by 14.5% and 12.7% respectively. Most of these accidents involved minor injuries and were mainly due to improper housekeeping at construction sites. LD will strengthen relevant publicity and enforcement efforts this year.

(f) The safety of excavation work on construction sites is governed by the Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance (FIUO) (Cap. 59) and its subsidiary regulations, Construction Sites (Safety) Regulations (Cap. 59I). According to Section 6A of FIUO, contractors and employers have the obligation to provide and maintain a safe system of work for hazardous work processes. Contractors therefore have the duty to conduct assessments of risks associated with electric power, explosive or flammable gases, pressurised pipes, etc, formulate safe method statements and implement relevant safety measures before engaging in excavation works.

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