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LCQ9: Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance

     Following is a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Ambrose S K Lee, to a question by the Hon Starry Lee in the Legislative Council today (February 15):


     I have received complaints from a number of owners of old buildings, indicating that the Fire Services Department (FSD) earlier served on the owners and occupants of their buildings fire safety directions (direction) under the Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance (Cap. 572) (the Ordinance) to require them to improve the fire service facilities in common areas by a specified date.  The owners who complained to me said that they were willing to comply with the order, and had taken initiative to convene owners' meetings to persuade other owners to carry out the improvement works, and had obtained some price quotations of the works for follow-up, yet quite a number of owners of the buildings were rather uncooperative and they had never attended the relevant owners' meetings to discuss the matter.  Since their buildings did not have any owners' corporations, the owners who were willing to pay for the improvement works could not force those who were unwilling to pay for the works, and as a result, the works could still not be commenced even after years of delay.  It has been learnt that FSD has currently decided that for cases in which the owners concerned have difficulty in complying with the directions and have been granted approval of extending the deadlines for compliance, no further extension will be granted, and the cases will be referred to the court directly for prosecutions against all owners of the buildings.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the respective numbers of fire safety directions served by FSD on buildings in various districts under the Ordinance in the past five years, broken down by District Council districts; the numbers of old buildings involved which are more than 30 years' old; the respective numbers of such directions which had fully been complied with, as well as those which had been issued for one year to less than two years, two years to less than three years, three years to less than four years, four years to less than five years, and five years or more but still had not been complied with; the number of prosecutions instituted by the authorities in the past five years; and the penalties generally imposed on the convicted persons;

(b) given that some owners of old buildings have indicated that the authorities required them to install roof tanks, staircase hose reels, and provide enclosure of electrical wiring, etc., which may not be suitable due to factors such as the structure and limited space of the staircases and rooftops, etc., and they therefore wish to use other facilities as substitute, what assistance the authorities provide to those owners of old buildings receiving the directions;

(c) whether it will consider following the practice of "removal first, cost recovery to follow" adopted by the Buildings Department in respect of unauthorised building works, so that for the buildings where the owners have failed to reach a consensus to comply with the direction for years, the authorities can arrange staff to carry out the improvement work on the fire service facilities, and then recover from the respective households afterwards their share of the costs incurred; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(d) with regard to the cases which failed to comply with the direction by the specified date, whether the Government will consider dealing with the cooperative and uncooperative owners separately and in phases, in that those uncooperative owners will be dealt with first, and then those owners who can produce proof (such as minutes of meeting, signed payment consent, etc.) to show that they have tried their best and have undertaken to pay for the improvement works in a later stage; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     The Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance (Cap. 572) (the FS(B)O) came into effect on July 1, 2007.  It aims to ensure that the fire safety of composite and domestic buildings completed on or before March 1, 1987 would be enhanced to better meet the requirements of today's society.  There is a notable difference between the fire safety requirements of those buildings at the time of their construction and the modern standards.  For instance, the commercial portions of composite buildings were not required by law at that time to install automatic sprinkler systems.  Enhancements are therefore necessary.

     Since the FS(B)O came into effect, the Fire Services Department (FSD) and the Buildings Department (BD) have been conducting joint inspections on target buildings, and issuing Fire Safety Directions (FS Directions) to owners and occupiers with regard to fire service installations as well as relevant fire safety constructions in those buildings with a view to enhancing basic fire protection measures.  The BD is the enforcement department on the fire safety measures in terms of the planning, design and construction of buildings, whereas fire service installations or equipment fall under the purview of the FSD.

     My reply to various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) Since the implementation of the FS(B)O and up to the end of December 2011, FSD has issued 61,469 FS Directions to owners and occupiers of 2,678 target buildings, of which 98% (or 2,624 buildings) are 30 years' old or more.  The number of target buildings, with breakdown by districts, issued with FS Directions is at Annex 1.

     The FSD normally gives an owner a year to comply with the FS Directions.  If the owners/owners' corporation (OC) concerned need more time to prepare for and carry out the improvement works, the FSD would consider extending the compliance period basing on the justifications provided in the application and/or the scale of works involved.  Of the 61,469 FS Directions issued, 14,231 have been complied with.  A breakdown of outstanding FS Directions according to the date of issue is at Annex 2.

     According to Section 5(8) of the FS(B)O, a person who, without reasonable excuse, fails to comply with a FS Direction is guilty of an offence.  The enforcement authorities may initiate prosecution.  On conviction, the concerned person may be sentenced to a maximum fine of $25,000 and to a further fine of $2,500 for each day during the non-compliance period.  As at the end of December 2011, the FSD has taken prosecution action in respect of eight cases against building/residential flat owners or occupiers who failed to comply with the FS Directions.  Court hearings were completed and convicted persons/OCs were fined $2,000 to $8,200.  In addition, the court has issued Fire Safety Compliance Orders to some of the convicted persons/OCs, directing their full compliance with the requirements of FS Directions by the deadlines set in the Orders.

(b) The enforcement authorities are aware that individual buildings might not be able to fully comply with the requirements due to structural or spatial constraints.  In this connection, the authorities would, without compromising basic fire safety, adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach in handling individual cases.  The officers concerned would deal with some of the requirements in a reasonable and flexible manner or consider accepting alternatives put forward by the owners in the light of the circumstances of individual cases and the information submitted by authorised persons.  For example, if there are spatial constraints in the installation of a hose reel system or water tank, the FSD would consider allowing the installation of an improvised hose reel system (Note 1), or converting the fresh or flushing water tank into the water tank for the hose reel system.  According to the experience of FSD, most of the structural and technical problems concerning the installation of fire services water tank can be resolved, such as by selecting a suitable location for installation (e.g. on top of an existing water tank or the head of rooftop staircase) or slightly reducing water tank capacity.

     The FSD and BD are prepared to meet with the owners/OCs concerned or the authorised persons they have engaged and explain the requirements of fire safety improvement works in the FS Directions so as to assist them in resolving problems possibly encountered in the implementation.  In case of special circumstances, the FSD would consider extending the compliance period basing on the justifications provided in the application and/or the scale of works involved.

     The enforcement authorities would also assist owners in complying with the FS Directions in other respects.  For example, enforcement departments would refer those buildings without OCs to the respective District Offices, which would assist them in establishing OCs so that the co-ordination of improvement works would be carried out more smoothly.

     Moreover, to assist owners of private buildings in conducting repair and maintenance, the Government, Hong Kong Housing Society and Urban Renewal Authority have been operating various financial assistance schemes for property owners in need, including the Comprehensive Building Safety Improvement Loan Scheme, Integrated Building Maintenance Assistance Scheme and Building Maintenance Grant Scheme for Elderly Owners.  Fire safety construction works pertaining to the FS(B)O have been incorporated into the list of works eligible for subsidies or loans under these schemes.

(c) In handling unauthorised building works (UBWs), BD indicates that orders under Section 24(1) of the Buildings Ordinance (BO) (Cap. 123) would be issued to require the owners to demolish or rectify the UBWs.  Generally speaking, if the owners fail to comply with the orders by the specified dates and those UBWs are considered to be of obvious hazards, BD would consider arranging for a government contractor to carry out the demolition work under Section 24(3) of the BO.  For UBWs which do not constitute obvious hazards, BD would consider taking prosecution action under Section 40(1BA) of the BO such that the owners would remove their UBWs on their own.

     There is no provision in the FS(B)O empowering the enforcement authorities to carry out upgrading works on fire service installations and equipment, and to recover costs from the parties concerned upon completion of works.  The requirement to carry out such works is to enhance the fire safety of target buildings to modern standards, but it does not mean that those buildings have imminent or obvious fire hazards.  There is insufficient justification to adopt special arrangements similar to those of BD on UBWs with obvious hazards.  In fact, owners/occupiers of the buildings should deliberate on feasible proposals and work arrangements and reach consensus on implementing such fire safety works, e.g. locations where the facilities would be installed.  It is not appropriate for the enforcement authorities to make unilateral decisions for them.

(d) As mentioned in part (b) above, the enforcement authorities would, without compromising basic fire safety, adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach in handling individual cases.  They would deal with certain requirements and/or extend the deadlines for compliance of the FS Directions reasonably and flexibly.  If an owner fails to comply with the FS Directions within a reasonable time or provide sufficient justifications, the enforcement authorities have the responsibility to take enforcement actions under the FS(B)O to ensure fire safety in old buildings.  According to past experience, in the hearing of cases in relation to the FS(B)O, the court would take into account follow-up actions taken by individual owners.

(Note 1): An improvised hose reel system includes a hose reel water tank with less than 2,000 litre capacity, a hose reel drum installed at a higher position and a hose reel of reduced length.

Ends/Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Issued at HKT 18:49


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