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LCQ1: Fire safety of industrial buildings
     Following is a question by the Ir Dr Hon Lo Wai-kwok and a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, in the Legislative Council today (July 13):


     In recent years, quite a number of units in industrial buildings have been converted for various uses.  Last month, a No. 4 alarm fire broke out in units on several storeys in an old industrial building in Kowloon Bay.  The fire had raged for several days and caused injuries to and death of a number of fire personnel before it was extinguished.  The authorities indicated that as the units concerned had been sub-divided into hundreds of mini-storages, making the layout very complicated, and the various mini-storages were locked, it was difficult to put out the blaze.  The fire has aroused concern about the fire safety of industrial buildings.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of fire safety inspections conducted by the authorities on old industrial buildings and the number of Fire Hazard Abatement Notices issued to the persons concerned, in each of the past three years;

(2) whether it will expeditiously formulate guidelines to regulate the layouts, partition materials, types of items to be stored and basic fire service facilities, etc. in respect of the mini-storages in old industrial buildings; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) whether it will, upon making reference to overseas experience, amend the relevant legislation to require owners, owners’ corporations and property management companies of industrial buildings to regularly arrange fire risk assessments to be conducted for the buildings concerned and such assessments, under specified circumstances, be conducted by registered fire engineers, so as to facilitate the authorities to issue fire safety certificates after ensuring the buildings’ compliance with the requirements; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     The No. 4 alarm fire at the Amoycan Industrial Centre was one of the biggest challenges faced by the Fire Services Department (FSD) in recent years.  The design of the mini-storage made the firefighting operation extremely difficult.  The firefighters had to deal with some 200 mini-storage cubicles, with a complicated layout, maze-like partitions and narrow passageways filled with intense heat due to the fire.  Worse still, all of the cubicles were locked, which significantly added to the difficulty of firefighting.  I would like to take this opportunity to express again my gratitude and appreciation towards all the fire and ambulance personnel for their dedication and diligence for putting out the blaze.

     We appreciate the public’s concerns over the fire safety of mini-storages.  The inter-departmental working group led by the Security Bureau has set out to explore short, medium and long-term measures to enhance the fire safety of mini-storages and similar premises.  My reply to the three parts of the question raised by Ir Dr Hon Lo is as follows:

(1) FSD set up an Industrial Building Enforcement Team in April 2010 to follow up on the irregularities identified in industrial buildings.  As at end May 2016, the task force conducted 10 868 follow-up inspections and issued 2 864 Fire Hazard Abatement Notices (FHANs).  FSD has also referred some other suspected irregularity cases to relevant departments for follow-up.

     Separately, the Buildings Department (BD) has been conducting a large-scale operation against illegal domestic use of units in industrial buildings since 2012.  As at end May 2016, BD inspected 99 target industrial buildings and issued 110 removal and discontinuation orders.  Additionally, if BD receives reports from members of the public or other departments concerning industrial buildings in contravention of the Buildings Ordinance (Cap 123), its staff will conduct inspections and follow-up as appropriate.  However, BD does not keep such statistics. 
(2) According to information available at this stage, there are over 500 mini-storages in Hong Kong and they are mainly located in industrial buildings in various districts.  Nonetheless, regardless of the type of building in which the mini-storages are located, the building shall comply with the fire and building safety requirements applicable at the time the building was completed, as well as other applicable statutory requirements.  With respect to fire safety, mini-storages must comply with the relevant requirements on the provision of means of escape and means of access for firefighting and rescue purposes, etc.  In relation to structural safety of buildings, the floor slabs of mini-storages must conform to the relevant loading requirements.

     FSD, BD, the Lands Department and the Labour Department are now inspecting mini-storages and similar premises in Hong Kong to check if there is any breach of the existing statutory requirements.  For any breaches of the Fire Services Ordinance (Cap 95) or the Dangerous Goods Ordinance (Cap 295) identified during inspection, FSD will institute prosecution against or issue a Fire Hazard Abatement Notice (FHAN) to the person(s) concerned under the relevant provisions.  For unauthorised building works, BD will issue orders for removal of such works under the Buildings Ordinance.  In addition, FSD and the relevant departments have recently met with the major operators of mini-storages in Hong Kong and expressed the Government’s grave concern over the fire safety of mini-storages.  The departments asked the trade to take all possible management measures as soon as possible to improve fire safety, including increasing the number of security personnel, preventing storage of dangerous goods, strengthening fire prevention training for their employees, ensuring the effective working order of fire service installations and equipment (FSI) etc.

(3) At present, the fire safety of industrial buildings is largely regulated by the Buildings Ordinance.  The FSI in an industrial building shall comply with those requirements applicable at the time when the building was constructed.  The owners or occupiers shall ensure that such FSI are in effective working order at all times.  FSD and BD would also conduct inspections periodically.  Where irregularities are identified during the inspections, the departments will take enforcement actions.  

     Ir Dr Hon Lo suggests that the owners and etc. of industrial buildings should be required to regularly arrange registered fire engineers to conduct fire risk assessments on the buildings.    

     The Registered Fire Engineer (RFE) Scheme, which enables qualified persons to conduct fire safety risk assessment, is not yet in force.  The Government would first need to have the support of the Legislative Council (LegCo) in deliberating and passing the Fire Services (Amendment) Bill 2015 at this meeting, and then make subsidiary legislation to provide for the details of the RFE Scheme, before it could be brought into operation.  The Scheme will be implemented in the licensing process for prescribed premises such as restaurants and hotels.  Whether and how the Scheme would be extended to other areas is a subject for FSD’s follow-up studies.

     As committed previously, the Government will study how to amend the law in order to strengthen the regulation of fire safety of mini-storages.  We welcome any proposals which might enhance fire safety, and the feasibility of each proposal will be carefully studied.  The Government will continue to listen to views from the public and examine different legislative approaches, taking into account relevant experiences in other jurisdictions.  Upon resumption of LegCo, the authorities will report progress to the relevant Panels as soon as practicable, with a view to putting forward legislative amendment proposals within the next LegCo session.
Ends/Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:08
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