Independent expert review of Buildings Department's report on building safety enforcement procedures and practices completed
Professor Ko Jan-ming and Mr Daniel Lam Chun, independent experts appointed by the Secretary for Development to conduct an independent review on the report prepared by the Buildings Department (BD) on its enforcement procedures and practices in relation to building safety, have submitted their findings and recommendations to the Secretary for Development.
A Development Bureau (DEVB) spokesman said, "We attach great importance to building safety. Immediately following the tragic collapse of a building at 45J Ma Tau Wai Road in January 2010, the BD began a territory-wide inspection of some 4,000 buildings aged 50 years or above to ascertain the safety of these buildings and swiftly completed the inspections in February 2010. After the Coroner gave his comments and recommendations in August 2011, the BD established a dedicated working group to consider the recommendations and to comprehensively review the BD's enforcement procedures and practices in relation to dilapidated buildings. The Secretary for Development also appointed two renowned experts from the fields of building surveying and structural engineering to independently examine the findings of the BD's review."
The independent experts and the BD made a number of recommendations on how different aspects of the BD's existing enforcement procedures and practices can be further improved.
First, on the conduct of site inspections and handling of emergency cases, the experts acknowledged the improvement to be brought about by the BD's recommendation to provide a standardised and enhanced toolkit, including equipment such as crack meters, spirit levels and small hammers, etc, for all inspecting officers, and to set up a centralised body for the upkeep of such equipment. The experts further suggested that the BD should explore the use of more advanced equipment, such as special vehicles that can allow staff of the BD to have remote access to the department's technical information during site inspections with a view to enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the BD's inspections.
Second, on the assessment of building defects and dilapidation condition after site inspections, the experts agreed with the BD's suggestion to, inter alia, introduce guidelines on the circumstances which call for the removal of decorative materials covering structural elements for inspection purposes, and introduce a new category ("Category V - Severe") in the severity index (an indicator for the BD's staff to classify the severity of building defects and determine the follow-up actions required of the department and the building owner), to better identify cases that warrant emergency works or even issuance of a closure order.
Third, as regards the follow-up action for complaints received and statutory orders issued, the experts considered the BD's recommendation that inspection reports should be submitted within one month after the on-site inspections a good move, and agreed that such reports should include suggestions on the time for the next inspection.
The experts have also made other suggestions to the BD, including suggestions to step up publicity efforts in collaboration with major stakeholders and professional institutes, to review the internal manuals and guidelines on a regular basis taking into account the views from the BD's staff and outsourced consultants, and to review the manpower and training needs regularly, etc. The BD welcomed these suggestions and would actively follow up.
During the review exercise, the independent experts and the BD have also considered whether and how the Coroner's recommendations could be adopted:
* The BD and the experts have come to similar views that joint inspection by structural engineers and building surveyors in handling building dilapidation cases in all cases is not necessary as it may not be the best use of resources nor is it necessary from the professional competence and ability point of view. The experts also noted that the BD has an established cross-discipline consultation mechanism for those rarely encountered cases that are sufficiently complex and require the specialised expertise from both structural engineers and building surveyors. It would thus be more important to set out clear guidelines to differentiate the cases that would require cross-discipline consultation and joint inspection from those that do not.
* The BD and the experts considered that the practice of issuing advisory letters can be maintained as the issuance of an advisory letter can be conducted in parallel with the preparation of statutory orders and will not affect the progress of the BD's enforcement work. The BD agreed with the experts' view that the advisory letter should be dispensed with in emergency cases.
* The BD's suggestion to determine the re-inspection cycle on a case-by-case basis is supported by the experts as it will ensure that the cases are put under regular monitoring, while the experts' suggestion to set out clearer guidelines on the re-inspection intervals is welcomed by the BD.
The reports prepared by the independent experts, together with the BD's report and a discussion paper summarising the results of the review, will be uploaded to the DEVB's website for public reference later today (June 5) (www.devb.gov.hk/en/publications_and_press_releases/studies_and_reports/index.html).
"The Secretary for Development and the Director of Buildings would like to express their heartfelt appreciation to the independent experts, who have provided numerous valuable comments and useful recommendations on how the efficiency and effectiveness of the BD's enforcement work can be enhanced. The BD will set up a dedicated task force in the department within one month to consider in a comprehensive manner how the recommendations should be implemented. The DEVB will provide the necessary assistance to the BD in securing the manpower and financial resources for implementing the recommendations where justified," the spokesman added.
While the BD will strive to implement the improvement measures proposed by the independent experts and its working group as soon as possible so as to enhance its enforcement work, the spokesman emphasised that it is the owners' basic responsibility to maintain the safety of their own properties. The owners should regularly inspect and repair their buildings to ensure the buildings remain in safe and good condition.
Ends/Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Issued at HKT 20:54