LCQ15: Industrial accidents of workers falling from heights

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 (February 3):


In recent years, the Government has allocated a lot of resources to promote occupational safety, but industrial accidents involving workers falling from heights have still occurred from time to time.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of industrial accidents involving persons falling from heights and resultant casualties in each of the past three years, with a breakdown by the cause of the accident;

(2) whether it knows the current number of buildings in Hong Kong the external walls of which have not been installed with any permanent features for anchorage of temporary structures or scaffoldings (anchor devices) or gondola systems; the years of completion of those buildings; if such information cannot be provided, whether the authorities will conduct relevant surveys; if they will, of the details and the timetable of the work involved; if not, the reasons for that; of the measures the authorities have in place to safeguard the occupational safety of workers while they are carrying out maintenance works on the external parts of this type of buildings;

(3) whether, in vetting and approving building plans in the past five years, the Buildings Department (BD) made reference to the Practice Note for Authorized Persons, Registered Structural Engineers and Registered Geotechnical Engineers on "Facilities for External Inspection and Maintenance of Buildings" and required that anchor devices be included in the design of external walls of buildings to be constructed; if BD did, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(4) given that anchor devices have not yet been installed on the external walls of some newly completed buildings, how the authorities will step up regulation to prevent more workers from falling from heights when carrying out maintenance works on the external walls of buildings; and

(5) whether BD will review the legislation and guidelines relating to work-at-height activities, e.g. whether the safety guidelines on the use of truss-out bamboo scaffolding (commonly known as "supporting brackets") still suit the present circumstances; if BD will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



Having consulted the Labour and Welfare Bureau, my reply is as follows:

(1) Labour Department (LD), Buildings Department (BD) and the Construction Industry Council (CIC) issue respective guidelines on various aspects of repair and maintenance works on the external walls of the buildings.

According to the information provided by LD, the numbers of industrial accidents in the construction industry involving fall-from-height in the past three years are set out in Annex.

LD does not keep the breakdown by causes of industrial accidents in the construction industry involving fall-from-height.

(2) BD has no information on the installation of anchor devices or gondola systems on the external walls of buildings in Hong Kong.  Given the large number of buildings in Hong Kong and having regard to the fact that anchor devices can be installed or removed at any time, there are difficulties in conducting the relevant survey.  Therefore, BD has no plan to conduct such survey.

(3) & (5) Under the “Practice Note for Authorized Persons, Registered Structural Engineers and Registered Geotechnical Engineers” ADV-14 (PNAP ADV-14), BD encourages the building industry to consider at the design stage the inclusion of facilities to facilitate external inspection and maintenance of buildings.  The Practice Note sets out technical guidelines as well as considerations to be taken into account in designing various facilities.  As these guidelines are not statutory requirements under the Buildings Ordinance (Cap.123), BD cannot refuse to approve building plans on the ground that the building designs do not follow such guidelines.  There are technical difficulties in transcribing the guidelines and considerations stipulated in PNAP ADV-14 into specific requirements to be applicable to all buildings.  Taking cast-in anchor devices as an example, the feasibility of setting specific requirements on the location, quantity, specifications, etc. of such devices for different types of development projects remains to be studied.  In this connection, the Task Force on Work Safety of Repair, Maintenance, Alteration and Addition works under the Committee on Construction Safety of the CIC has formed working groups comprising representatives from trade associations, workers' unions, the Occupational Safety and Health Council (OSHC), the property management sector, professional bodies of the construction industry and relevant government departments.  LD and BD will actively participate in the groups and explore how the safety of renovation, repair and maintenance works can be enhanced through building design and enhancing preventive and protective measures for existing buildings.

(4) Furthermore, to strengthen occupational safety, apart from the promulgation of guidelines to the industry by LD, BD and the CIC, LD strives to minimise work hazards at external walls of buildings and foster work-at-height safety through inspection and enforcement, publicity and promotion, as well as education and training.

Regarding scaffolding safety at external walls, LD and the OSHC have jointly launched the "Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Star Enterprise Safety Accreditation Scheme" for small-and-medium-sized contractors of the repair, maintenance, alteration and addition (RMAA) industry.  The Scheme covers provision of safety training, subsidies for the purchase of fall arresting devices and conducting safety audits.  As at the end of 2015, 30 small-and-medium-sized RMAA contractors have been accredited “Star Enterprise”, and six of them have been further upgraded to “Gold Star Enterprise” for their good OSH performance and continuous attainment of the accreditation for more than one year.  In June 2014, LD also updated the “Code of Practice for Bamboo Scaffolding Safety” to delineate the responsibilities among principal contractors and sub-contractors on planking arrangement for providing working platforms on bamboo scaffolds on the external walls of buildings, with a view to ensuring that suitable working platforms are available for use by workers carrying out works on external walls.

In order to better protect workers from fall while working on the external walls of buildings, LD, in collaboration with the OSHC, has launched sponsorship schemes to offer subsidies for the industry to purchase, inter alia, transportable temporary anchor devices and full body safety harness.  Besides, LD allows "competent persons" who have received special training offered by the OSHC to conduct inspection and testing of anchor devices connecting to the personal fall arresting devices with a view to encouraging the use of such devices by workers engaged in the erection/dismantling of scaffolding works on external walls.

As far as work-at-height safety is concerned, LD offers thematic safety seminars and conferences from time to time. It also supports workers' unions and organisations to organise site safety talks and to stage roving exhibitions near renovation and maintenance work sites in various districts for directly promoting work-at-height safety to workers and the public.

LD also reminds duty-holders undertaking work-at-height about the risks involved and how to eliminate these risks through various channels, including through the issue of systematic safety alerts to registered safety officers and registered safety auditors, urging them to provide their employers/clients with appropriate advice on the appropriate preventive measures when discharging their statutory duties.  Moreover, LD has written to all construction contractors and sub-contractors in the territory, urging them to adopt appropriate safety measures while erecting, dismantling and using truss-out bamboo scaffolds.  In addition, through the issue of "Work Safety Alerts", LD has provided contractors, workers' unions and professional organisations of safety practitioners with a brief account of accidents involving work-at-height and truss-out bamboo scaffolding, so as to prevent recurrence of similar accidents.

As regards inspection and enforcement, apart from conducting regular surprise inspections, LD launches special enforcement operations from time to time targeting at work-at-height to deter work practices contravening work safety requirements.

Ends/Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Issued at HKT 14:35