LCQ20: Safety of maintenance works on external walls of buildings

Following is a question by the Hon Kwok Wai-keung and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (November 13):


Some trade unions have pointed out that in recent years, developers often utilise a lot of aluminium panels, marble and large glass panels on the external walls in building design so as to present a magnificent outlook of luxurious apartments with a view to attracting buyers.  However, the utilisation of such materials will lead to difficulties in carrying out maintenance works on the external walls of such buildings in future, and it will also place maintenance workers at greater risk of falling from heights and may render small property owners legally liable.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the figures of occupational injuries and deaths involving the interior renovation and building maintenance industries in each of the past five years, with a breakdown by year, industry and category of injuries; and among them, of the number and percentage of those cases involving the design of external walls of buildings and maintenance works on external walls; whether the authorities have plans to review the existing safety guidelines for carrying out maintenance works on external walls, and expeditiously implement remedy measures targeting the design defects of the external walls of new buildings, so as to ensure the occupational safety of maintenance workers; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) of the total number of requests received in the past five years from minority owners by the authorities for assistance concerning repair and maintenance of buildings; whether the authorities will strictly require developers to set out clearly the details about the relevant repair and maintenance responsibilities in the sales documents of residential properties, Deeds of Mutual Covenants of the buildings and other relevant documents, so that prospective owners will clearly know their legal liability; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) given that some members of the construction industry have relayed to me that quite a number of developers and their construction and design teams do not attach importance to the codes of practice issued by the Buildings Department regarding the facilities for the inspection and maintenance of the external parts of buildings, whether the authorities will consider making reference to the legislation on building design and management of the United Kingdom, and enacting legislation to require that building plans submitted by developers should include detailed considerations regarding future maintenance of the external walls of the buildings, and that permanent access facilities should be installed (including (i) providing safe and suitable passageways and working platforms; (ii) installing permanent cast-in anchors such as "sheep eye bolts" and bolts on the external walls of buildings for workers to hang their safety belts; (iii) installing suspended working platforms at safe and suitable locations and providing suitable passageways and equipment; and (iv) installing equipment on the external walls to stabilise the position of suspended working platforms), so as to improve the safety standard of maintenance works for the external parts of buildings and ensure the occupational safety of workers; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



Having consulted the Labour and Welfare Bureau and the Transport and Housing Bureau (THB), my reply to the three-part question is as follows:

(a) According to the information provided by the Labour Department (LD), the number of industrial accidents involving renovation and maintenance industries in the past five years (up to mid-2013), broken down by year and categories of the accidents, are tabulated in the Annex.  There were 982 injury cases and 20 fatal cases during the same period, which involved "fall of person from height".  Amongst these fatal cases, 10 occurred while the workers were working on external walls of buildings.  LD has issued work safety guidelines for various high-risk processes (including external wall maintenance), and will update the guidelines from time to time in the light of changes in the working environment.  Moreover, the Occupational Safety and Health Council has been offering subsidies to the industry for purchasing work safety equipment, including transportable temporary anchor device and full body safety harness, etc.

(b) The Buildings Department (BD) does not keep statistics on the number of requests received from property owners for assistance concerning repair and maintenance of external walls of buildings.

Before completion of a development, the developer drafts the Deed of Mutual Covenant (DMC) according to the lease conditions and the relevant guidelines to prescribe the rights, benefits and responsibilities amongst property owners, including the repair and maintenance responsibilities, etc.

According to THB, the Residential Properties (First-hand Sales) Ordinance (the Ordinance) (Cap. 621) came into full implementation on April 29, 2013.  According to the Ordinance, vendors of first-hand residential properties must make available the sales brochure for the development to the public.  The sales brochure must include a summary of the DMC (or the draft DMC) and details of the fittings, finishes and appliances adopted in the development.  As far as the exterior finishes of a development are concerned, the vendor must set out in the sales brochure the type of external wall finishes, the material of the frame and glass for the window(s), the material and the window sill finishes for the bay window(s), the type of finishes for the planter(s), and the type of finishes for the verandah(s) or balcony/balconies and whether or not the verandah or balcony is covered.

The "Notes to purchasers of first-hand residential properties" published by the Sales of First-hand Residential Properties Authority reminds prospective purchasers of first-hand residential properties to pay attention to the information set out in the DMC (or the draft DMC) regarding the ownership of the rooftop and external walls, and advises prospective purchasers to read the DMC (or the draft DMC).

(c) Safety of work on the exterior of buildings would be enhanced if the design of the development takes into account the long-term need for external building inspection and maintenance and provides the necessary facilities.  In this connection, BD has issued Practice Note for Authorised Persons, Registered Structural Engineers and Registered Geotechnical Engineers to provide technical guidelines on the facilities for external inspection and maintenance of buildings and promote adoption of the recommendations by the building industry.

Given the design of different developments may have unique requirements and needs, the impact on building design must be carefully assessed when considering whether mandatory requirement should be introduced in the design of new development to require the provision of specified facilities for future maintenance of external walls of buildings.

Besides, we note that the Committee on Construction Site Safety under the Construction Industry Council is studying various proposals for enhancing the safety of workers who work on the exterior of buildings, and will make reference to the experience and practice of other territories in dealing with similar problem.  The Government will facilitate the work of the Committee with a view to safeguarding the occupational safety of workers who work on the exterior of buildings.

Ends/Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Issued at HKT 14:31