Following is a question by the Hon Leung Ka-lau and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (February 16):
The Government, in collaboration with the Hong Kong Housing Society and the Urban Renewal Authority, launched the two-billion dollar Operation Building Bright (OBB) in 2009 to help owners of some 2,000 target buildings which are over 30 years old to carry out building repair works. In 2010, the Government injected an additional funding of $500 million to increase the number of buildings that could benefit from OBB. However, it has been learnt that from time to time, building materials containing asbestos are found to have been used in old buildings and repair works may lead to the release of asbestos fibres, affecting the health of the repair workers and the residents. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether the authorities have conducted asbestos assessments in old buildings which received grants to carry out repair works since the launch of the first round of OBB; if they have, of the relevant data (including the number of buildings which have undergone asbestos assessments and the number of those confirmed to contain asbestos materials); if not, how the authorities ensure that the health of both the workers and the residents is adequately protected from being affected by asbestos before repair works for the assisted buildings are carried out;
(b) if the authorities have conducted asbestos assessments in old buildings which participated in OBB for the first time, whether the Labour Department and the Environmental Protection Department have monitored and inspected thoroughly the risks of these repair works; if they have, of the number of the relevant inspections and prosecutions; if not, whether the authorities will monitor and inspect these repair works and report the relevant data and details to the public on a half-yearly basis;
(c) whether it will consider requiring owners whose applications for the new round of OBB have been approved to conduct asbestos assessments in their buildings first and approval for commencement of the repair works will not be given until the places under repair are proved to be free of asbestos materials; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(d) given that the information provided by the Development Bureau showed that since the launch of OBB, more than 5,900 job opportunities (including construction workers, technical workers, contractors, and professionals) have been created, but from time to time, building materials containing asbestos are found to have been used in old buildings, whether the authorities have provided workers undertaking the repair works with appropriate training and instructions to ensure that they are equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary for undertaking the asbestos works; if they have, of the details; if not, how the health of these repair workers can be safeguarded?
Works involving asbestos are regulated by the Air Pollution Control Ordinance (Cap. 311) (the Ordinance) and the Factories and Industrial Undertakings (Asbestos) Regulation (Cap. 59AD) (the Regulation).
The Ordinance provides for detailed control on works involving asbestos containing material. Works involving contact with asbestos containing material are mainly related to demolition or repair of buildings containing asbestos materials. The Ordinance requires that if the demolition or repair works of a premises involve asbestos containing material, the owner of the premises shall engage a registered asbestos consultant and a registered asbestos contractor to handle the relevant asbestos works and notify the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) in writing prior to commencement of the works. Contractors for asbestos works are required to register with the EPD to ensure that they have appropriate equipment, training, experience and capability in complying with the relevant requirements of the Ordinance.
According to the requirements of the Regulation, a proprietor/contractor who carries out asbestos work shall notify the Labour Department (LD) not less than 28 days before commencement of the work. Prior to the carrying out of the work, the proprietor/contractor shall also arrange qualified persons to carry out an adequate assessment of the conditions of exposure of the workers to asbestos, and take out effective measures to control the risk arising from asbestos in the course of the work. In addition, to further protect the health of the workers, the proprietor/contractor shall also ensure that the workers have undergone a medical examination before being employed to carry out the asbestos work, and that they are kept under periodic health surveillance.
The target buildings under the Operation Building Bright (OBB) are divided into two categories. Category 1 covers buildings with owners' corporations (OCs). Category 2 covers buildings with difficulties in organising repair works, such as buildings without OCs. The repair works for Category 1 target buildings are organised voluntarily by OCs. If the owners of a Category 2 target building are unable to organise repair works by themselves, the Buildings Department (BD) will hire consultants and contractors to carry out the relevant works on behalf of the owners.
The OBB has all along been putting emphasis in reminding the participants (including owners and practitioners of the construction industry) of the requirements of various safety aspects. We have co-ordinated different departments to conduct extensive publicity and monitoring work. The Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) and Urban Renewal Authority (URA) have organised four briefings for authorised persons (APs) and registered general building contractors, with the participation of representatives of the EPD to explain to the participants the requirements of the Ordinance and the responsibilities of investigation and removal works of asbestos as well as to remind them of the issues that warrant attention and need to be complied with. For the OBB, the LD has also organised over 20 seminars on the safety of renovation and repair works to enhance the understanding of the importance of occupational safety of repair works of the APs, consultants, contractors and workers responsible for the repair works of the target buildings under the OBB. The seminars also covered matters related to occupational safety and health of asbestos work.
When issuing an "approval-in-principle" to the OC of a target building, the HKHS/URA will at the same time attach pamphlets and posters related to matters that warrant attention and compliance in the removal of asbestos containing material to remind the OC of the requirements of the Ordinance. The HKHS/URA will also remind the AP engaged by the OC to pay attention to and comply with all the relevant legislation, including the requirements related to the handling of asbestos containing material as provided in the Ordinance. Regarding repair of old-style buildings, APs should assess whether the proposed repair works would involve asbestos containing material. If it is assessed that the repair items involve asbestos containing material, the APs should comply with the requirements in the Ordinance and the "Practice Note for Authorised Persons, Registered Structural Engineers and Registered Geotechnical Engineers" issued by the BD in carrying out the repair works concerned, which include engagement of a registered asbestos consultant to carry out an investigation for the proposed repair works, and engagement of a registered asbestos contractor to carry out the relevant works, etc. The costs of the works, including those for investigation and removal works of asbestos and the associated professional service, etc, that comply with the requirements of the OBB, could be covered by the scope of grant.
Regarding Category 2 target buildings, the BD will request its consultants to pay attention to whether the proposed repair items would involve asbestos containing material. If the repair items involve asbestos containing material, the BD will require its consultants to arrange for the removal of the asbestos containing material, including the engagement of registered asbestos consultants and registered asbestos contractors to carry out the relevant works. The registered asbestos consultants and registered asbestos contractors should also comply with the relevant statutory requirements.
We will continue to adopt the above-mentioned measures to implement the OBB in order to enhance the safety of asbestos issues that might need to be handled during the carrying out of repair works.
The reply to the four-part question is as follows:
(a) & (b) Since the implementation of the OBB, the HKHS, URA, BD, EPD and LD have been maintaining close liaison. The HKHS, URA and BD provide the EPD and LD with name lists and information of target buildings monthly. The information includes whether APs have been engaged, tentative or actual commencement date of works and the works involved, etc. in order to facilitate inspection and regulatory actions by the EPD and LD.
Up to the end of 2010, the EPD has conducted initial assessment for about 1,400 target buildings and confirmed that about 1,100 buildings contain asbestos containing material. The EPD has issued letters to the owners of individual units and OCs of such buildings to explain the issues that warrant attention and the requirements of the Ordinance in relation to the removal of asbestos containing material. This is to remind the owners and parties concerned that they should follow the requirements of the Ordinance in carrying out repair works of the buildings. The EPD has also sent staff to the above-mentioned buildings to carry out assessments and inspections for about 1,500 times. No incidents of contravention of the Ordinance have been found.
Besides, after receipt of information provided by the HKHS, URA and BD, the LD has also carried out inspections. Up to the end of 2010, the LD has inspected about 1,400 target buildings. The Department has not found any incidents in contravention of the Regulation in the course of the inspections.
(c) The works to be subsidised under both the first and second rounds of the OBB must comply with the requirements of all the relevant legislation, including the Ordinance which requires that the owner of a premises should follow the requirements of the Ordinance to handle works involving asbestos. Therefore, before carrying out building repair works, an owner of a premises should arrange to assess whether the proposed works would involve asbestos containing material. If necessary, a registered asbestos consultant and a registered asbestos contractor should be employed to carry out the works involving asbestos in accordance with the requirements of the Ordinance.
(d) Up to the end of January 2011, the OBB has created around 15,600 job opportunities for building professionals, contractors, technicians, workers, etc. The Ordinance has stringent requirements on the control of abatement works involving asbestos containing material. According to the requirements of the Ordinance, it is necessary to engage a registered asbestos contractor to handle abatement works involving asbestos containing material. The EPD has compiled a set of detailed code of practice for reference by the industry. The code of practice includes the issues of concern, guidelines and advice in respect of different types of asbestos abatement works as well as individuals' protective installations that should be equipped for the practitioners of asbestos works, etc. The Ordinance also requires registered asbestos contractors to provide regular training to their staff. In applying for or renewal of registration, the contractors shall also submit the relevant records to the EPD for scrutiny to ensure that the staff possess the required skill and knowledge.
The Regulation requires proprietors/contractors to provide adequate information, instructions and training about the risks of asbestos and the safety precautions for workers engaged in asbestos work. In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Council has also been organising occupational safety and health courses on asbestos work for the industry regularly to enable workers to understand asbestos hazards and provide training on the adoption of proper methods in performing asbestos work to safeguard their health.
Ends/Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Issued at HKT 15:33