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LC Urgent Q1: Application of events involving proposed use of dyestuff or powder

     Following is an urgent question by the Hon Elizabeth Quat under Rule 24(4) of the Rules of Procedure and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (July 8):


     On the 27th of last month, an explosion of coloured powder occurred and a fire broke out at the Formosa Water Park in New Taipei City of Taiwan, causing nearly 500 casualties.  Given the grave concern of members of the public about the safety of two large-scale events to be held in Hong Kong this month and in December this year respectively, in which coloured paints or powder will be used, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has immediately reviewed the system adopted by the authorities for regulating the use of coloured paints or powder in public events, including the procedures for vetting and approval of such applications, and prohibition on the use of substances which are harmful to the skin and to the respiratory system or which are inflammable; if it has reviewed, of the outcome; if not, whether it will conduct such a review immediately; and

(2) whether it has immediately reviewed if the hospitals in Hong Kong can cope with a scenario in which hundreds of people suffer from burns; if the review outcome is that the hospitals can hardly cope with such a scenario, whether it will immediately draw up contingency measures?



     The Government is concerned about the dust deflagration incident which occurred in New Taipei City, Taiwan, especially the safety of such activities and whether a similar incident would arise in Hong Kong.  In this connection, the Food and Health Bureau will coordinate with the relevant bureaux and departments including the Security Bureau (SB), Home Affairs Bureau, Fire Services Department (FSD), Buildings Department (BD), Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD), Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF), Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), Department of Health (DH), Government Laboratory (GL) and Hospital Authority (HA) to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents in Hong Kong.

     Generally speaking, dust deflagration is attributed to a number of major elements, including combustible powder, ignition source, oxygen, the extent of dispersion of powder particles and the extent of confinement of powder cloud in a space.  The risk also includes deflagration for more than one time.  The departments concerned will handle prudently activities involving the use of powder, by requesting applicants to provide relevant information, seeking professional advice and making careful analysis, so as to protect public safety.

     Currently, the organisers of two events involving the proposed use of dyestuff or powder are applying for a place of public entertainment (PPE) licence under the Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance (Cap. 172) (the Ordinance).  These two events are proposed to be held in July and December 2015 respectively. According to the announcement by AsiaWorld-Expo yesterday, following its liaison with the organiser, the proposed event originally scheduled for July will be postponed while that for December will be cancelled. However, as at earlier today, FEHD has yet to be formally informed by the organisers about the cancellation.

     Under the Ordinance, any person who desires to keep or use any PPE must apply to the licensing authority for a licence.  The Secretary for Home Affairs is the licensing authority.  He has authorised the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene to execute the licensing procedures.  The Ordinance has been enacted for the purpose of ensuring public safety and orderliness on the premises concerned where members of the public gather together, covering various aspects such as fire safety, building safety, electrical and mechanical equipment, ventilation, crowd management and hygiene. All PPEs must comply with the requirements set by FEHD and other departments concerned (e.g. FSD, BD, EMSD and HKPF) as appropriate.

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

(1) We are given to understand that the powder involved in the recent Taiwan incident was mainly composed of corn starch dyed in different colours.

     Upon receipt of an application for a PPE licence, FEHD will first consider the nature of the activity. If the activity falls within the ambit of the Ordinance, FEHD will handle the application and, in the light of the nature of activity and the venue in question, consult the relevant government departments, including FSD, BD, EMSD, Environmental Protection Department, Transport Department, Highways Department, HKPF and Lands Department, to ensure compliance with requirements covering plan specifications, fire safety, building safety, electrical, mechanical, crowd management and hygiene requirements.  These departments will advise on areas under their respective purview.

     Upon receiving a referral from FEHD, FSD will examine the information submitted by the applicant according to the existing PPE licensing mechanism.  Inspection of the relevant premises or venue will be carried out to learn more about the nature of the activity, the form of performance, props and materials, etc. based on which fire risk will be assessed and appropriate fire safety requirements formulated for compliance by the applicant.  After the premises or venue concerned is confirmed to be in compliance with all fire safety requirements, FSD will issue a fire services certificate to the applicant and inform FEHD accordingly.

     Where an applicant proposes to use dyestuff or powder in an activity, FSD will, as and when necessary, ask the applicant to submit further information on the dyestuff or powder to be used, for instance, a material safety data sheet containing details of its composition, and physical and chemical data (e.g. toxicity, flammability and explosiveness).  Should FSD, after assessing the fire risk, consider that the form of performance, the props or materials to be used in the activity are not suitable in the premises or venue concerned, it may prohibit the applicant from adopting the relevant form of performance or using certain props or materials, or else FSD will raise objection to the application.

     Furthermore, BD will advise FEHD on building safety matters (e.g. the means of escape and structural safety, including the stage and supporting framework for lighting and audio systems, etc.) while EMSD will advise on the electrical and mechanical equipment (e.g. electrical installation and laser equipment.

     As regards the impact on human health, DH will, as invited by the licensing authority, require the applicant to provide information on the dyestuff or powder used in the relevant activity (including its composition, risk assessment report on toxicity etc.), as well as the use, target population and venues, and then offer advice based on the assessed impact on human health.

     GL will provide support for FSD and DH through conducting test and assessment to ascertain flammability and risks of potential health hazards.  The testing process conducted by GL measures up to the international standards (ISO 17025).

     Upon receipt of feedback from the departments concerned, FEHD will process the application on the basis of the risk assessments they make.  If the relevant departments do not object to the application, FEHD will issue a letter of requirements to the applicant.  It is only after all the requirements have been met and inspection has been conducted to confirm compliance with the requirements that a licence will be issued, and appropriate licensing conditions will be imposed.

(2) HA will take actions under the three-tier response framework at the request of the Government in response to major incidents, accidents and disasters. Taking into account factors including the nature of the cases and their magnitude, the number of casualties and demand for medical treatment, HA will activate the appropriate response level and maximise its rescue efforts with the resources available.  For example, HA will flexibly deploy its medical manpower, hospital beds and the relevant medical resources, according to the circumstances, to provide appropriate handling and treatment.

     In the event of a major disaster such as a fire, HA will consider whether the tier three response should be activated under the circumstances to go in line with the Government¡¦s actions and policies.  The Central Command Committee under HA will take appropriate actions as directed by its Chief Executive.  Apart from providing in-patient medical treatment to the injured, the relevant public hospitals will, where necessary, send a medical control officer to the scene for on-site triage of casualties and emergency medical teams to provide emergency medical treatment.  Social and psychological services for the injured and their families will also be provided.

     In addition, HA's Head Office will activate the Major Incident Control Centre (MICC), which is operated by the MICC coordinators and duty officers.  Externally, the MICC serves as a communication hub for HA and maintains close liaison with government bureaux/departments, including FSD, district offices, SB and HKPF, to better understand the progress of rescue on the spot and the need for setting up an inter-departmental help desk.  Internally, the MICC coordinates the operation of 17 accident and emergency departments and 15 intensive care units.  Should the situation so warrant, medical control officers and emergency medical teams will be dispatched to provide the injured with medical treatment on the spot and in hospitals.

     Regarding medical services, the 17 accident and emergency departments under HA have built up a network of mutual support for the deployment of medical control officers and emergency medical teams to the scene to provide medical services for the injured.  The duty officer of the MICC will maintain close contact with the Fire Services Communication Centre and receiving hospitals to provide triage service.  A service network is also in place among the acute hospitals to take care of patients suffering from burns.  According to the prevailing internal guidelines, when their conditions are clinically stable and so permit, these patients may be transferred to the relevant burns facilities or units for appropriate treatment.

     That said, the intense day-to-day demand currently being placed on HA's services is such that where HA has to initiate the aforesaid tier three response as a contingency measure for emergency, it is inevitable that other non-emergency medical services will be affected. Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Issued at HKT 16:14


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