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LCQ2: Heat stroke at work

     Following is a question by the Hon Li Fung-ying and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (July 6):


     It has been reported that from early May to mid-June this year, there were no less than 27 incidents in Hong Kong of members of the public suffering from heat stroke, among which there were at least nine cases of members of the public suffering from heat stroke in the course of employment.  Given the arrival of the long summer days in Hong Kong, will the Government consider legislating for the mandatory enforcement of the guidelines on "Prevention of Heat Stroke at Work in a Hot Environment" of the Labour Department and reviewing the Employees' Compensation Ordinance to streamline the procedures for employees to claim compensation for complications triggered by and personal injuries resulted from heat stroke in the course of employment, so as to enhance protection of employees?



     At present, the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance and the Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance require that employers must, so far as reasonably practicable, ensure the safety and health at work of their employees. As such, if employees need to work during hot weather, employers have the responsibility of considering employees' risk of heat stroke, including such factors as temperature, humidity, air movement, radiant heat, nature of work and workload, employees' clothing, and whether employees can adapt to the hot environment. They should then take appropriate preventive measures commensurate with the needs of different industries and different jobs.

     Through education, publicity and enforcement, the Labour Department (LD) raises employers' and employees' awareness of the risk of heat stroke and preventive measures, and helps them comply with the foregoing legal requirements.  On the education front, LD has published a guide on the prevention of heat stroke at work in a general hot environment and practical methods for assessing the risk of heat stroke. These methods include arranging outdoor work in cooler periods during daytime, providing mechanical aids to reduce the physical exertion of workers at work, providing adequate drinking water and reminding workers to drink more water, erecting a shelter at the workplace and rest area to shield off direct sunlight, enhancing ventilation at the workplace, arranging for workers to take rest breaks at intervals, and providing relevant information, instructions, training and supervision. Besides, LD has published tailor-made checklists for employers in the construction and cleansing industries to assess the risk of heat stroke in these specific working environments.

     On the publicity front, LD organises health talks, broadcasts publicity messages through different media, distributes promotional materials, and broadcasts public announcements on television and radio and issues press releases in response to weather conditions to remind stakeholders to pay due regard to the prevention of heat stroke. LD also publicises relevant messages in collaboration with the Occupational Safety and Health Council, Construction Industry Council, relevant employers' associations and workers' unions, such as conducting promotional visits to construction sites and outdoor cleansing workplaces to promote the prevention of heat stroke among workers on site.

     On the enforcement front, LD inspects outdoor workplaces with a higher risk of heat stroke during summer every year, and takes out immediate enforcement actions if employers are found violating the legal requirements, such as failure to provide employees with drinking water.

     Besides, the Employees' Compensation Ordinance stipulates that if an employee sustains an injury or dies as a result of an accident arising out of and in the course of employment, including injury or death resulting from an accident caused by heat stroke at work, the employer should be liable to pay compensation. Incidents of heat stroke depend generally on a multitude of factors including environmental factors, work factors and personal factors. It is, therefore, inappropriate to determine whether a case should fall into the ambit of the Ordinance by solely relying on the heat stroke symptoms suffered by an employee. The procedure of handling cases of heat stroke at work is similar to that of normal cases. Upon receipt of notification by an employer, LD will collect relevant information of the case, including investigation reports and medical reports etc and, if necessary, consult Occupational Health Officer, with a view to assisting the employer and the employee in handling the claim for compensation promptly.

Ends/Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Issued at HKT 13:40


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