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LCQ13: Asbestos material removal works

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 (July 13):

Question:

Regarding the Secretary for Development's reply on 16 February this year to a question on the removal of asbestos materials under Operation Building Bright, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that the Government only indicated in its reply, "Up to the end of 2010, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has conducted initial assessment for about 1,400 target buildings and confirmed that about 1,100 buildings contain asbestos containing material" and "The EPD has also sent staff to the abovementioned buildings to carry out assessments and inspections for about 1,500 times", whether the authorities will further publish the list of the target buildings which are subjected to asbestos assessment and confirmed to contain asbestos materials and were inspected by EPD staff for the purpose of asbestos material removal works, to let workers and members of the public become aware of the relevant information and take precautions accordingly before carrying out maintenance for the target buildings; if not, of the reasons for that; and

(b) whether the Labour Department and the Environmental Protection Department have collected air samples for testing in the target buildings to ascertain that there is no risk of inhaling asbestos fibres by the workers when carrying out the works; if not, of the reasons for that; if yes, the dates, times and locations of taking air samples, the sampling and testing methods, number of tests conducted, number of samples taken and the test results (including the types of asbestos contained in the samples and the level of asbestos content in the air of the work sites); if it cannot provide such information, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

Works involving asbestos are stringently regulated by the Air Pollution Control Ordinance (Cap. 311) (the Ordinance) and the Factories and Industrial Undertakings (Asbestos) Regulation (Cap. 59 sub. leg. AD) (the Regulation).

Same as owners of other private buildings undertaking repair works, owners of target buildings participating in the Operation Building Bright (OBB) should comply with the requirements of the Ordinance and the Regulation in the process of arranging building repair.  Since the implementation of the OBB, the Hong Kong Housing Society, Urban Renewal Authority, Buildings Department, Environmental Protection Department (EPD) and Labour Department (LD) have been maintaining close liaison to jointly handle asbestos issues that might emerge during the carrying out of repair works in order to ensure safety.  The EPD and LD will also inspect and exercise control on asbestos works in target buildings.

The reply to the two-part question is as follows:

(a) After carrying out initial assessment of asbestos-containing materials in the target buildings of the OBB, the EPD will issue letters to the owners of individual units and owners' corporations (OCs) of the buildings concerned to inform them of the assessment results.  The Department will explain to owners matters that warrant attention during alteration or demolition of asbestos-containing materials in their premises as well as the requirements regarding employment of registered asbestos consultants and registered asbestos contractors to handle asbestos abatement works under the Ordinance.

In fact, works of the OBB mainly involve common areas of target buildings, i.e. repair and maintenance works relating to building structural components as well as fire safety and sanitary facilities of buildings, and most of the components with confirmed asbestos-containing materials in target buildings are not the abovementioned repair items.  Common asbestos-containing materials found in old-style buildings, such as corrugated asbestos cement sheets, will not release asbestos fibres if they are in good conditions and are not disturbed.  However, the EPD has reminded OCs that if these materials are to be demolished during the works of the OBB, the works should be carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Ordinance in order to protect public health.

We consider that in carrying out asbestos abatement works, the most important issue is that OCs and owners of the buildings concerned will employ qualified professionals in accordance with the requirements of the Ordinance to adopt effective safety measures through which the safety of households of the buildings, workers and the public can be adequately ensured.  In this regard, the EPD has already informed the relevant owners and the Department as well as the LD will also continue to exercise control over the works.  We consider it unnecessary to draw up a particular list for these cases and publicise the same.  This practice follows the Administration's established arrangement regarding premises inspected for building safety.  Besides, we also have to observe the feelings of the owners and occupants of the buildings concerned, and do not wish to create a wrong impression to the public that all these buildings are dangerous.

(b) From time to time, the LD deploys officers to inspect workplaces involving asbestos work, including target buildings of the OBB.  The officers of LD will inspect the nature and quantity of asbestos materials, work methods for removing asbestos, asbestos control measures and personal protective equipment in use, etc. to ensure that the work complies with the requirements of the Regulation.  Depending on the nature of the work being conducted at the workplace, the officers of LD will also collect air samples on site to measure the concentration of asbestos fibre in air so as to evaluate the risk of asbestos exposure of the workers at work.  From January 2010 to June 2011, the LD collected a total of 40 air samples from various workplaces over Hong Kong (including target buildings of the OBB).  After collecting air samples, the LD conducted tests in accordance with the method stipulated in the Gazette Notice on "Approved method for measuring exposure to asbestos in air" issued by the Department.  All the results indicated that the amount of asbestos dust to which the workers were exposed complied with the requirements of the relevant legislation.

Registered asbestos contractors shall also, in accordance with the requirements under the "Code of Practice on Asbestos Control", appoint registered asbestos laboratories to carry out air monitoring for workplaces.  The test results would be submitted to the EPD for record.  Up to June 2011, the submitted air test results of asbestos abatement works carried out in target buildings of the OBB did not reveal any cases in exceedance of statutory limit.  The EPD will continue to follow up on each case involving asbestos in accordance with the Ordinance in order to ensure public health.


Ends/Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Issued at HKT 14:50

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