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LCQ1: Guarding against injuries or sudden deaths of employees due to overexertion at work
     Following is a question by the Hon Ho Kai-ming and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (November 30):


     Some working persons have pointed out that in recent years, cases of employees suffering from overexertion at work and even cases of sudden deaths suspected to be caused by overexertion are not uncommon.  Nevertheless, the existing labour laws offer grossly inadequate protection for such employees and neglect the physical and psychological impacts of long working hours and exceedingly heavy workload on employees.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it knows the respective criteria currently adopted by public hospital doctors for diagnosing whether or not a patient has suffered from overexertion and died of this; of the respective numbers of cases in the past three years in which employees were hospitalised for treatment due to overexertion and cases in which employees died suddenly at work or on their way to and from work due to overexertion; among those employees who were hospitalised, the respective numbers of those who were discharged after recovery and those who could not be cured and died;

(2) whether it has plans to formulate new and targeted measures, including expeditiously legislating on standard working hours, so as to guard against injuries or deaths of employees due to overexertion; if it does, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) whether it knows the countries and regions where employees' overexertion and sudden deaths caused by overexertion are currently regarded as occupational injuries and deaths in respect of which employees' compensation may be claimed; whether the authorities will follow such practices and amend existing legislation so as to enhance protection for employees; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply :


     The Government has always been greatly concerned about the work pressure faced by working persons and its possible impact on their physical and mental health.  The Labour Department (LD) and the Occupational Safety and Health Council (OSHC) have done much to enhance employees' alertness and awareness about work pressure, and to help them ease such pressure through policy formulation and public education.

     My reply to the three parts raised by the Hon Ho Kai-ming is as follows:

(1) The Hospital Authority (HA) has not set out any criteria for diagnosing whether a patient has suffered from overexertion or died of overexertion, nor does it keep information on employees hospitalised for treatment of overexertion and the number of cases in which employees died suddenly at work or on their way to and from work.  LD also does not keep statistics on such deaths or related information.

(2) LD alleviates employees' work pressure and helps them ease such pressure through different policies.  To provide employees with necessary rest, the Employment Ordinance requires that eligible employees shall be granted one rest day in every period of seven days.  Employees are also entitled to statutory holidays and paid annual leave.

     Besides, in order to promote proper understanding of and measures for managing work pressure among employers and employees, LD and OSHC have published a variety of promotional publications and information and organised various forms of publicity activities.  LD has published a booklet titled "Work and Stress", while OSHC has published a "Work Stress Management" Do-it-Yourself kit and on-line work stress assessment.  Such information provides practical measures for preventing and managing work pressure at personal and organisational levels.

     LD and OSHC also organise public talks and workshops from time to time to strengthen employers' and employees' understanding of work pressure management.  As at the end of October, LD had organised a total of 105 talks and workshops this year.

     The Department of Health and OSHC launched the "Joyful@Healthy Workplace" programme in August 2016.  Through a series of activities, including a dedicated webpage, workshops and distribution of educational materials, the programme has helped employers and employees jointly create a healthy and happy working environment.  The programme covers such action areas as mental health.  Organisations are encouraged to sign the "Joyful@Healthy Workplace" programme charter as a commitment to promoting physical and mental health at workplaces.  Over 390 organisations have participated in the programme since its launch in August this year.  OSHC will continue to encourage organisations to actively participate in the programme.

     Appropriate rest breaks are crucial to the prevention of occupational health problems arising from long working hours.  Under the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance, employers must, so far as reasonably practicable, ensure the safety and health at work of employees, which includes ensuring that employees are given appropriate rest breaks.  In this connection, LD has issued the Guide on Rest Breaks, which sets out that employers should make rest break arrangements for workers, including arranging appropriate rest breaks for employees after a long period of continuous work.  Take the construction industry as an example, as the hot and humid weather in summer may pose health risks to construction workers working outdoors for long hours, the construction sector has since 2013 provided an extra 15-minute rest break every morning for construction site workers during the hot summer months between May and September in accordance with the relevant guidelines issued by the Construction Industry Council.

     The Government in April 2013 established the Standard Working Hours Committee (SWHC) to follow up on the Government's study on working hours policy and advise on the working hours situation in Hong Kong.  SWHC will submit a report to the Government by the end of January next year.

(3) According to the information available to LD, the International Labour Organization has not drawn up any definitions or guidelines on sudden deaths caused by overexertion at work, nor are there internationally recognised criteria in this regard.  Most countries or places do not have such definitions made in the context of employees' compensation.  As a matter of fact, the social culture, structure and composition of the labour force and general working environment of different countries or regions are not all the same.

     The existing Employees' Compensation Ordinance (ECO) of Hong Kong stipulates that if an employee sustains an injury or dies as a result of an accident arising out of and in the course of the employment, including sudden death which happens in the workplace and is caused by accident arising from work, his or her employer is liable to pay compensation in accordance with ECO.  The causes of sudden death other than by work accident in the course of the employment are complex and may involve a multitude of factors, including personal health condition, heredity, eating or living habits, work nature and environment, etc.  It is a very difficult and complicated issue to determine whether workload or work pressure has contributed to the sudden death of an employee in the course of the employment, and to conclude whether his employer shall be liable to pay compensation.

     The Government will continue to accord importance to employees' occupational safety and health, strengthen employees' awareness of work pressure and help them alleviate such pressure.
Ends/Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Issued at HKT 14:25
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