Simply not workable

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 January, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 January, 1996, 12:00am

THE Society of Registered Safety Officers notes the influx of overseas safety officers registered under the Factories and Industrial Undertakings (Safety Officers & Safety Supervisors) Regulations. This is a source of concern to our members. We would question whether or not they can be effective in accident prevention.

We demand that such applications from overseas safety officers should be critically reviewed.

We object to the registration of overseas safety officers on the following grounds: Overseas safety officers do not have the local knowledge with regard to law, work practices and systems at work. The working experience of overseas applicants is difficult to check and review. The types of construction work they undertook overseas may be totally different from the current Hong Kong situation.

In Hong Kong, we now have far more construction work of different types and at various levels of complexity.

They may come up against a language barrier when communicating with members of the local workforce. It is unlikely that overseas applicants will be able to speak and write in Chinese. On the other hand, over 98 per cent of our local construction workforce speak Cantonese and are unable to communicate in any other foreign language. This barrier reduces the effectiveness of on-site training, auditing, accident investigation and feedback of the site conditions from the workforce. Injuries, fatal or otherwise, are suffered mainly by the workforce. Accident prevention necessitates face-to-face contact. Tackling an emergency case on-site without any knowledge of the language, can have dangerous consequences.

Overseas officers do not understand local culture. One of the main tasks for a safety officer is to motivate workers to observe safety rules. Promotion of safety and prevention of accidents at work sites demands an understanding of the culture of a workforce. Appointing a Hong Kong safety officer to a Japanese construction site or elsewhere to promote safety may not be effective. The front-line workforce eventually loses confidence in safety officers who do not understand local culture. It results in alienation between management and workforce. It is now a general personnel practice for a multinational company to appoint, as far as possible, local staff to be its safety adviser.

Last but not the least, overseas officers obstruct advancement of local safety officers. Also, local officers do not have an opportunity to gain experience from special and complex projects. It limits the ability of local professionals in the long run.

How can overseas safety officers who face the obstructions I have described, perform their duties or adequately discharge the statutory duties imposed on them while working on local sites? In relation to a local work situation, overseas safety officers cannot be effective.

We, as a society, believe that Hong Kong needs better safety officers, but not more officers. A ratio of 1:100 is conceptually wrong.

LEE HUNG-KWONG Vice President Society of Registered Safety Officers