Government watchdog the Office of the Ombudsman will investigate three government departments – the Labour Department, Buildings Department and the Development Bureau – to see how effectively they enforce the laws intended to protect workers.
The Ombudsman, Winnie Chiu, made the announcement after the collapse of a tower crane in Sau Mau Ping earlier this month killed three construction workers and injured six more.
“Fatal industrial accidents in construction works projects have occurred frequently in recent years, which is worrying,” said Chiu. “One life lost to an industrial accident is too many.”
The current legislation regulating health & safety at work mainly comprises the Occupational Safety & Health Ordinance, the Factories & Industrial Undertakings Ordinance, and their subsidiary regulations.
On the enforcement front, the Labour Department inspects construction sites and takes regulatory actions to curb unsafe operations in the construction industry. The Buildings Department can reject contractors’ applications for registration or take disciplinary action against them if they have been found guilty of a health & safety breach.
The Development Bureau can also take action against contractors involved in serious incidents or those violating site safety legislation, including suspending them from tendering for public works or removing them from the lists of approved contractors.
Data compiled by the Labour Department shows that Hong Kong’s construction industry recorded the largest number of fatal industrial accidents and the highest accident rate per 1,000 workers of all industries in 2021.
There were 23 fatalities in total, the highest for five years, with the number translating to a fatality rate of 0.218, which is five times that of all industries (i.e. 0.043) in Hong Kong. The accident rate per 1,000 workers in the construction industry was 29.5, nearly twice the rate of 15.2 in all industries.
In May 2022, the Labour Department submitted the Occupational Safety and Occupational Health Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2022 to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to increase the level of penalties in health & safety legislation.
Ombudsman Chiu said: “While the government is working on legislative amendments to increase the level of penalties, it is vitally important to have appropriate measures in place to prevent such accidents. Hence, I have decided to initiate a direct investigation to examine the government’s regulation of occupational safety and health in the construction industry.
“Our investigation will cover the relevant departments’ inspections and enforcement actions regarding construction sites as well as minor renovations and maintenance works; the regulation of registered safety auditors and registered safety officers; follow-up actions on incidents; publicity and education; the registration and regulation of contractors and their bidding on public works contracts, and more. Where necessary, I will make recommendations for improvement to the government.”