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LCQ4: Preventing employees from suffering heat stroke at work
     Following is a question by the Hon Lam Chun-sing and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Chris Sun, in the Legislative Council today (July 13):

     The Hong Kong Observatory issued a total of 116 Very Hot Weather Warnings from 2015 to 2019. Last year alone, the number of Very Hot Days even hit a record high of 54. On the other hand, the number of heat stroke-related work injury cases registered at the Labour Department (LD) from 2013 to 2017 was 100. On preventing employees from suffering heat stroke at work, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the respective numbers of heat stroke-related work injury and fatal cases registered at the LD in each of the past three years;

(2) given that the Inter-departmental Working Group set up by the Government conducted a review in 2020 on the improvement measures in respect of the remuneration packages and labour protection for non-skilled employees engaged by government service contractors, and it recommended in its review report that contractors be required to provide uniforms with dry-fit properties for non-skilled employees engaging in outdoor work in summer, and that measures on preventing heat stroke, such as provision of suitable work arrangements and supply of cool potable water, be included in the tender briefs as guidelines for good practice, of the latest implementation situation of the relevant recommendations, and the current total number of non-skilled employees who have benefitted from such recommendations; and

(3) as the High Temperature Labour Protection Measures implemented by the People's Government of Guangdong Province stipulate that where the temperature reaches above 37 degree Celsius to below 39 degree Celsius, the duration of outdoor work of employees at open areas shall not be more than six hours, and where the temperature reaches above 39 degree Celsius, outdoor work at open areas shall be suspended, whether the authorities will, by drawing reference from the relevant practice, enact legislation on employees working outdoors under very hot weather, including making it a statutory requirement for conducting the risk assessments as set out in the booklet Risk Assessment for the Prevention of Heat Stroke at Work compiled by the LD, as well as expressly specifying working hour limits and proportion of rest time for employees who work under very hot weather; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

     Having consulted the relevant departments, my consolidated response to the Member's question is set out below:

(1) The number of work injury cases related to heat stroke registered by the Labour Department (LD) in the past three years (i.e. 2019, 2020 and 2021) are 20, 12 and 22 respectively (the figure in 2021 is provisional as some cases are still under investigation). There were no fatalities in these cases.
(2) The Labour and Welfare Bureau set up an inter-departmental working group (working group) in 2020 to review the improvement measures for both the remuneration packages and labour protection of non-skilled employees engaged by government service contractors (GSCs). The working group consisted of members from four departments that use more non-skilled employee services (i.e. the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, the Housing Department and the Government Property Agency). The working group submitted a report in January 2021 recommending further measures to improve the working environment and the remuneration packages of non-skilled employees. To prevent heat stroke at work in hot environment for non-skilled employees, the report recommended:

(i) where necessary, including clauses in service contracts tendered on or after April 1, 2021, requiring GSCs to provide uniforms with dry-fit properties to non-skilled employees engaged in outdoor work in summer; and

(ii) incorporating heat stroke prevention measures promulgated by the LD into the tender documents as a good practice guideline. The measures include providing suitable work arrangements, making use of mechanical aids in work to reduce physical demands, scheduling regular breaks for employees to rest in cooler areas during very hot periods, and providing cool potable water for employees to drink at all times. 

     The above four major procurement departments have been implementing the recommendations of the working group progressively from April 1, 2021, and suitably adding the recommended measures in the tender documents when renewing the service contracts. Currently, a total of 12 369 non-skilled employees benefit from the relevant service contracts.

     As the contracts for employing non-skilled employees to provide services generally last for two to three years, the above four departments are expected to fully implement the relevant recommendations in 2024, and the total number of non-skilled employees benefitting from the arrangement will be more than 38 000 by then.

(3) Heat stroke is caused by heat stress. The level of heat stress at work depends on many factors. Apart from temperature, the factors also include humidity of the working environment, air flow, heat radiation level, workload of employees, clothing worn by employees and whether employees are accustomed to torrid environment. The Government therefore considers that it is not appropriate to regulate outdoor working hours and rest periods based solely on temperature. 
     Taking into account that summer temperature in Hong Kong is getting higher and higher, employees who work outdoors do face a certain risk of heat stroke. The LD is actively considering formulating more detailed and specific guidelines based on Hong Kong Heat Index from the Hong Kong Observatory to require employers to take appropriate heat stroke prevention measures in extremely hot weather.
     The LD has always been concerned about the risk of heat stroke faced by outdoor workers. It launches a large-scale promotional campaign on heat stroke prevention every summer, and promotes the importance of heat stroke prevention through various media and online platforms. Since last year, the LD and the Occupational Safety and Health Council have launched the Portable Waist Fan Sponsorship Scheme for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to provide subsidies to SMEs in industries with a higher risk of heat stroke to purchase waist fans.
     According to section 6 of the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance (Cap. 509), employers are required to provide or maintain systems of work that are, so far as reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health. Such requirements include the implementation of appropriate risk control measures at the workplace to protect employees from heat stroke while at work. To assist employers in fulfilling their duties, the LD has issued a guideline on Risk Assessment for the Prevention of Heat Stroke at Work, which details the various risk factors that should be considered when conducting risk assessments, and recommends corresponding control measures for each risk factor.
     The LD conducts inspection and law enforcement to ensure that employers comply with the abovementioned legal requirements, including checking whether employers have referred to the abovementioned guideline to assess the relevant risk factors for heat stroke at work and take corresponding control measures so far as reasonably practicable to protect the health of employees. If our inspection reveals that an employer has failed to refer to the guideline to carry out the required risk assessment and take appropriate control measures, corresponding enforcement actions will be taken by the LD.
Ends/Wednesday, July 13, 2022
Issued at HKT 14:20
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