LCQ7: Industrial accidents in very hot weather

     Following is a question by the Hon Ip Wai-ming and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (October 19):


     It has been reported that a construction site worker was suspected to have died from heat stroke in the course of employment this summer. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of industrial accidents, in each of the past three years, which involved employees working when the Very Hot Weather Warning was in force, the casualties resulted from such accidents, causes of the accidents, as well as the industries in which the employees concerned were engaged;

(b) whether the authorities had, in the past three years when the Very Hot Weather Warning was in force, conducted inspections at certain or all workplaces with a high risk of heat stroke (eg working on outdoor scaffoldings and performing cleaning work, as well as carrying out maintenance, alteration and extension works on external walls of buildings) and inspected whether the employees concerned had been given sufficient protection; if they had, of the details, including whether any employer was prosecuted for failing to provide sufficient ancillary facilities (eg drinking water); if not, the reasons for that;

(c) whether the authorities had held regular discussions in the past three years with employers in industries requiring long periods of outdoor work on enhancement of protection for staff; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(d) apart from the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance (Cap. 509), the Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance (Cap. 59) and the guidelines on "Prevention of Heat Stroke at Work in a Hot Environment", what other legislation and working guidelines are currently in place to protect employees at work under hot weather; whether the authorities have plans to amend the relevant legislation (including the imposition of heavier penalties for contravention)?



     My reply to Hon Ip Wai-ming's question is as follows:

(a) The Labour Department (LD) does not keep statistics on the occurrence of industrial accidents in different weather conditions, including the issue of very hot weather warning. Nonetheless, LD has analysed the 34 occupational injury cases that were suspected to be related to heat stroke as notified by employers during May to September 2011. These include three fatal cases, and the rest related to workers having symptoms such as dizziness and vomiting. In respect of occupational distribution, 10 cases involved cleansing workers, three involved construction site workers, four involved professional drivers, and the remaining 17 involved different occupations such as security, maintenance and goods transportation. These suspected heat stroke cases were not confined to days when the very hot weather warning was in force.

(b) Employers have a duty to take adequate precautions to prevent employees from suffering heat stroke at work in hot weather. In the past three years, LD conducted a special inspection campaign in summer every year, targeting outdoor cleansing work, construction work, container handling and other work with a higher risk of heat stroke. LD inspected whether employers had taken adequate measures, which included providing adequate drinking water at convenient locations, providing shelters and ventilation facilities, and arranging regular rest breaks or job rotation for workers. In 2009 and 2010, LD conducted a total of 33 900 special inspections, issued 264 warnings and eight improvement notices, and took out three prosecutions. LD further stepped up inspections this year, and from April to September conducted about 28 900 special inspections, with 437 warnings and 14 improvement notices issued. The Department is considering taking out seven prosecutions. The prosecution cases involve employers' failure to provide adequate drinking water or a work system that prevents heat stroke.

(c) In the past three years, LD liaised with the sectors engaged in long-term outdoor work from time to time to promote measures to prevent heat stroke at work to employers and employees, so as to safeguard the occupational safety and health of workers. For the construction industry, LD promoted prevention of heat stroke among construction workers in collaboration with the Construction Industry Council, relevant employers' associations and trade unions, through distributing guidelines on preventive measures and risk assessment checklists, and conducting promotional visits to work sites. With LD's co-ordination, the Hong Kong Construction Association, together with some contractors, launched a pilot scheme in summer this year at some construction sites to adjust workers' rest and meal breaks to reduce the risk of heat stroke at work in hot weather. Furthermore, LD organised large-scale occupational safety and health talks for the cleansing industry and, in collaboration with cleansing contractors, conducted site visits to outdoor cleansing workplaces and distributed relevant publications to promote the implementation of heat stroke preventive measures. For the transport industry, LD, in collaboration with the Occupational Safety and Health Council and relevant trade unions, distributed publications and promotional items at various stations throughout Hong Kong in summer this year to raise their awareness of heat stroke and preventive measures. LD also organised tailor-made health talks for captains of non air-conditioned buses, and recommended to the relevant company a number of heat stroke prevention measures. These measures include providing cool drinking water and cooling devices, and increasing rest breaks for these bus captains. LD also provided recommendations on strengthening heat stroke preventive measures to the airport ground handling service operators and the Hong Kong Airport Authority, and organised health talks for the managerial and frontline staff of the organisations concerned to enhance their awareness of heat stroke prevention.

(d) The Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance (Cap. 509) and the Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance (Cap. 59) stipulate that every employer must, so far as reasonably practicable, ensure the safety and health at work of all their employees, including considering their risk of heat stroke and taking appropriate preventive measures. An employer who fails to comply with the aforementioned general duty provision commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of $500,000 and imprisonment for six months. Besides, the relevant subsidiary regulations stipulate that a person responsible for a workplace must ensure that sufficient potable water is provided to the employees. An employer who fails to comply with these regulations commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of $10,000. LD has published the guide on "Heat Stroke Prevention at Work in a Hot Environment" to assist employers in drawing up specific preventive measures with respect to different work nature and work processes, such as providing drinking water, setting up sunshades and arranging rest breaks. Apart from the aforementioned legislation and guide, LD has published specific heat stroke risk assessment checklists with respect to the unique situations of construction sites and outdoor cleansing work.

     LD will review the relevant legislation and guidelines from time to time to ensure that the occupational safety and health of employees are fully protected.

Ends/Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Issued at HKT 11:31