Published: 02:05, December 20, 2022 | Updated: 09:06, December 20, 2022
Hong Kong should do more to be a safer city
By Ho Lok-sang

Christmas is around the corner. During Christmas, people in Hong Kong pray for peace and safety. But the troubled world makes peace and safety appear to be extremely elusive. In Hong Kong, there is a lot that we can do to ensure the safety of workers, pedestrians, passengers, and drivers.    

In the past year, we have seen a series of shocking industrial accidents and occupational accidents that killed many workers, leaving many families bereaved.

Just this past week, a worker, 42, fell off bamboo scaffolding erected around a home undergoing renovation in Kowloon City. Last Wednesday, a 55-year-old worker was crushed to death when a 4-meter-long piece of metal fell on him when he was dismantling a metal structure at a construction site in Yau Tong. On Thursday, a dock worker died after an inflatable ship fender he was refilling with gas exploded, catapulting him more than 10 meters into the air at the cargo terminal in Kwai Chung. And on Friday, two workers were killed in a traffic accident in Tung Chung, while nine others were injured. The two who were killed were removing leaves from the road when a double-decker bus ran into a truck and a delivery van that had pulled off to the roadside. 

The number of industrial accident fatalities in 2021 was 263, averaging just over five each week. Industrial accidents refer to injuries and deaths arising from industrial activities in industrial undertakings. Occupational fatalities therefore include deaths not only from industrial accidents, but also from accidents not related to industrial activities and industrial sites. Among occupational fatalities, only the tragedies that occurred in Yau Tong and Kwai Chung were classed as industrial accidents. What happened this past week involved the deaths of five workers, which is a sad story for Hong Kong.

If Hong Kong is to be a safe city for workers, the “take-a-chance” mentality must be abandoned

My last article on worker safety, Safety of Workers’ Lives Must Now Be a Priority 2, was the second of two articles with the same title. This was my third article on the subject since Dec 30, 2021. As Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said, statistics are hard cold figures, insufficient to reflect the hardships and suffering. The suffering behind the numbers is real: Five families have been bereaved per week.    

 I have argued for a minimum fine for the employer of a worker killed in an industrial accident. Perhaps a minimum fine should also be mandatory for other workers killed in occupational accidents. Typically, employers of workers killed in industrial accidents have deeper pockets. So I had recommended a minimum no-fault fine of HK$1 million ($128,500) in my Oct 11, 2022, article, referred to above. I would recommend a minimum no-fault fine of HK$200,000 for other occupational fatalities. My argument is that with no-fault, mandatory fines impending, employers will take all the precautions that they can think of to ward off risks. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government is now considering revising the Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance. I would recommend that they also consider revising the Employment Ordinance.  

In addition, I strongly urge that the Transport Department review all road signs and traffic light installations to make sure that they are clear and effectively help drivers who may be unfamiliar with the directions. I also strongly urge the Development Bureau to review the work of the Greening, Landscape and Tree Management Section, which was set up in 2010 after a girl was struck by a falling tree in Stanley. Since that time, unfortunately, the problem of trees falling and causing accidents has continued. There have been times when a tree was found to be at risk of falling but was somehow not considered as posing an immediate risk. Such trees have then fallen and injured or killed people. I was surprised that these trees had not been given some physical support, just to play safe. 

I have argued that if we are to transform Hong Kong into a smart city, then we must at least make it safe. I am surprised that some civil servants would take a chance. I recall that with the Hong Kong Coliseum Mirror concert accident, the staging of the concert had been approved without an authorized person signing off to certify that the installations were fit for purpose. Such certification is explicitly specified as a requirement in the terms for renting the premises.   

If Hong Kong is to be a safe city for workers, the “take-a-chance” mentality must be abandoned. 

The author is the director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.