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LCQ4: Occupational safety and health of cleansing workers
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     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Ka-lau and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (March 21):

Question:

     It has been reported that with regard to the case of a cleansing worker who was killed in an explosion caused by incorrectly mixing cleansing agents, the coroner handling the case pointed out that he had handled quite a number of cases involving cleansing workers being killed after inhaling toxic chemical fumes, and such cases reflected that the knowledge of these workers and their supervisors about dangerous cleansing agents was limited, and the management of some cleansing companies was perfunctory about adopting occupational safety and health measures.  The coroner therefore suggested the Labour Department (LD) to introduce a licensing system to ensure the implementation of effective occupational safety guidelines by the management of cleansing companies.  In addition, according to a survey report on the chemical hazards to workers of the outsourced cleansing service industry published in 2010 by an organisation which is concerned about occupational health (the organisation), among the cleansing workers interviewed, nearly 80% indicated that their employers had not provided proper training, nearly half of them said that the safety information on chemicals provided by their employers was inadequate, and over 40% of them said that they did not understand the labels on chemicals and did not read the contents.  The organisation suggested that employers should enhance safety measures and training, and that the Government and property developers should stipulate in detail contractorsíŽ responsibilities for safeguarding occupational safety and health of cleansing workers in the outsourced cleansing service contracts, conduct regular reviews, and introduce a demerit point system to penalise contractors for not implementing the relevant measures.  The organisation also suggested that LD should step up monitoring and inspection to check whether the employers were fulfilling their relevant responsibilities.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the measures currently adopted by LD targeted at safeguarding the occupational safety and health of cleansing workers;

(b) whether LD will draw up relevant measures to minimise the potential risk posed to cleansing workers when they come into contact with and use chemicals, and increase their awareness towards the hazards of different chemicals; if it will, of the details; and

(c) whether LD will make reference to the aforesaid suggestions by the coroner and the organisation on enhancing the safeguard for the occupational safety and health of cleansing workers by cleansing companies and employers, and take follow-up actions and adopt improvement measures, including introducing a licensing system and a demerit point system in respect of the outsourced cleansing service contracts of the Government, etc?

Reply:

President,

     My reply to Dr Hon Leung Ka-lau's question is as follows:

(a) At present, the Labour Department (LD) safeguards the occupational safety and health of cleansing workers through enforcement, education and publicity.  To prevent accidents involving the use of chemicals by cleansing workers, LD, during its inspections to workplaces, urges cleansing contractors to comply with relevant legislation and take suitable measures so as to ensure the safety of workers.  These include affixing correct and clear labels on chemical containers, so that cleansing workers clearly recognise and understand their contents.  In 2011, LD launched special enforcement campaigns targeting cleansing workplaces, in which a total of 325 inspections were conducted, 146 warnings and 6 improvement notices issued, and 4 prosecutions taken out.

(b) At present, LD and the Occupational Safety and Health Council jointly organise promotional activities in collaboration with relevant employers' associations, contractors, trade unions and property management companies.  Through organising occupational health talks and distributing occupational safety and health publications, cleansing contractors are reminded to discharge their duties by providing relevant information, instructions, training and supervision to their employees to ensure their safety in using chemicals.  In 2011, LD organised 10 occupational health talks tailor-made for employers and employees from the cleansing industry, covering safe use of chemicals, so as to enhance their understanding of the hazards of using chemicals, recognition of labels of containers and their contents, and the associated safety measures.

(c) In accordance with the general duty provisions under the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance (OSHO), employers must, so far as reasonably practicable, ensure the occupational safety and health of their employees.  For the cleansing industry, employers have the duty to provide and maintain safe systems of work for cleansing workers, ensure the safe use of chemicals for cleansing purpose, and provide necessary information, instructions, training and supervision to cleansing workers, including the provision of adequate information on chemical safety and correct labels. An employer who violates the requirement is liable to a maximum fine of $200,000 and to imprisonment for 6 months.  The OSHO also stipulates that employees must, so far as reasonably practicable, take care of their own safety and health and that of other persons who are at the workplace. An employee who violates the requirement is liable to a maximum fine of $50,000 and to imprisonment for 6 months.  LD will, under the existing legal framework, step up inspections and enforcement, and will carefully examine the feasibility of implementing a licensing system and demerit point system, as recommended by the coroner and the relevant organisation.

Ends/Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Issued at HKT 11:52

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