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LCQ5: Simplification of site safety items
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     Following is a question by the Hon Poon Siu-ping and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (June 8):

Question:

     To encourage contractors of public works projects to implement site safety measures, the Government has implemented since 1993 the Pay for Safety Scheme, under which funding is earmarked for public works project contracts to finance contractors to carry out site safety items. At the end of last year, the Development Bureau released a consultation document on the review of the safety management system for public works projects to gauge the views of stakeholders of the construction industry on the improvement directions it had proposed for the safety management system currently applicable to public works project contracts. Such directions include reducing some of the site safety items in the bills of quantities in order to cut expenses. Moreover, the Chief Executive has indicated in this year's Policy Address that as construction costs have been escalating incessantly in recent years and several major public works projects have experienced significant cost overruns, there is a need for the Government to strengthen project cost control. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the manner in which the authorities gauged the views of stakeholders of the construction industry on the aforesaid consultation document, the names of the bodies and organisations consulted, and the time when the consultation outcome will be published;

(2) whether the authorities have assessed the impacts of the reduction of site safety items in the bills of quantities on industrial safety; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) given that the Labour Department has issued a non-legally binding guide on "Prevention of Heat Stroke at Work in a Hot Environment" advising employers to make special arrangements in hot workplaces for employees for the prevention of heat stroke (such as the provision of ventilation facilities, drinking water and additional rest breaks), whether the authorities have explored ways to ensure compliance with such guide by contractors after the reduction of site safety items for public works projects; whether the authorities will consider enacting legislation to require all employers to make special arrangements in hot workplaces for employees for the prevention of heat stroke so as to ensure work safety; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

     The Government has always attached great importance to safety of the construction industry. Since 1993, contractors have been required to submit "safety plans" under public works contracts to ensure that a safety management system would be in place for protecting workers' health and safety when they carry out public works projects. To further enhance site safety, the Pay for Safety Scheme (the Scheme) for public works projects was launched in 1996, with subsequent reviews and improvement measures adopted from time to time. The accident rate for public works has dropped drastically by over 85 per cent, from 56.6 per 1 000 workers in 1996 to 7.8 per 1 000 workers in 2015.

     After 20 years or so of practical experience, the construction industry is now well aware of the importance of the site safety measures in the Scheme to construction safety. Some considered that there is no much need to make payments for certain site safety measures as an incentive to encourage contractors to implement such measures nowadays, and some from the construction industry considered that the associated administrative work of the Scheme being too complicated and tedious. Hence, it is necessary to review the Scheme and study the feasibility of simplifying it to streamline the administrative work.

My reply to the Hon Poon Siu-ping's question is as follows:

(1) The Development Bureau (DEVB) reviewed and put forward proposed enhancements to the Construction Site Safety Management System in November 2015. In this connection, a consultation document on the enhancement proposals was issued to 63 major stakeholders in the industry, including professional institutions, trade associations, workers' unions and project proponents, at the end of last year (see Annex for the list of consultees).

     A total of 16 consultative meetings were held to exchange views with the stakeholders and seek their responses to the enhancement proposals before the consultation exercise ended in May this year. Currently, we are reviewing and collating the views received, with a view to finalising the enhancement initiatives by the end of this year.

(2) In respect of the DEVB's proposed enhancement initiatives related to the Scheme, the issues under consideration are whether the number of payable site safety items is excessive; whether the administrative work is complicated and tedious; and whether the payment amounts are appropriate. In fact, there are as many as 25 payable items under the bills of quantities for the Scheme and the total payment amount has been increasing over the years, from about 2 per cent of the total project cost initially to 3.7 per cent at the maximum at present, including 1.7 per cent for items tied to safety performance.

     With the establishment of the safety management system, some of the above items may have become outdated in terms of suitability or efficacy. Examples include payments to contractors for attending safety meetings, updating safety plans and provision of safety bulletin boards, which are unnecessarily tedious. Indeed, the application and approval processes for these payments also entail considerable extra administrative work. We therefore propose that it is no longer required to adopt payments for certain site safety items as a means of monitoring contractor's performance. We estimate that, after the simplification, the total amount payable under the Scheme will still remain high relative to the project cost and account for 2.5 per cent or above of the project cost. By reducing the unnecessary administrative tasks, the site staff are able to focus their effort more on the practical work of ensuring site safety. I must point out that, notwithstanding our proposed reduction of the content of the bills of quantities for the Scheme, contractors are still required to continue to implement all current relevant site safety measures under the works contract. Contractors may include the safety related costs not covered by the bills of quantities in their tender prices. Our objective is to ensure that the revised arrangements would prove more effective and would not affect site safety.

(3) The site safety items under the existing bills of quantities for the Scheme do not include any measures related to "Prevention of Heat Stroke at Work in a Hot Environment" promulgated by the Labour Department (LD). As such, the concerns of simplifying the Scheme would affect contractorsíŽ incentives or responsibilities from implementing the above required by the LD should not exist.

     According to the LD, the general duties of employers are set out in the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance and the Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance. Specifically, the employers must, so far as reasonably practicable, ensure the safety and health of their employees. The subsidiary regulations of the above legislation also provide that it is the responsibility of employers to assess the risk of heat stroke to the workers working in a hot environment and take appropriate preventive measures. They include enhanced ventilation in the workplace, and provision of sufficient potable water, rest breaks and job rotations, etc. The above information is set out in the publicity leaflet entitled "Prevention of Heat Stroke at Work in a Hot Environment", which has been issued by the LD to the trade. The LD officers may conduct surprise visits to different workplaces from time to time and step up inspections to outdoor workplaces with a higher risk of heat stroke during summer to monitor employers' compliance with the above-mentioned legislation and guidelines. Where necessary, appropriate enforcement actions will be taken.

     In respect of public works projects, the DEVB has issued related guidelines to the works departments that stipulated additional provisions on improving workplace environment in the works contracts scheduled for tender from July 2015 onwards, including implementing the Construction Industry Council's guidelines on working in hot weather. According to the guidelines, during hot summer months (i.e. between May and September), contractors should (i) allow an extra 15-minute rest break every morning for construction workers; (ii) assess the risks of heat stroke and other heat-related disorders to workers in hot weather; (iii) provide shelters and good ventilation facilities for workers; (iv) re-assign work to prevent workers from working in a hot environment for prolonged periods; (v) provide rest periods and relevant training; and (vi), where practicable, provide sheltered rest areas with tables and chairs. Moreover, we also encourage contractors to regularise the existing practice of afternoon tea breaks for construction works by offering extra scores in their quarterly performance reports.

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Issued at HKT 17:05

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