Expats needed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 January, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 January, 1996, 12:00am

I REFER to the letter from Lee Hung-kwong, the Vice President of the Society of Registered Safety Officers (SRSO) headlined, 'Simply unworkable' (Sunday Morning Post, January 21).

I was 'simply astounded' to read what amounted to whining protectionism from an organisation whose members have benefited so much from the subject of their attack namely; 'overseas registered safety officers' (ORSOs).

For lay readers this definition refers to expatriates who have met the legal requirements to become registered and operate as a 'safety officer' in Hong Kong.

Despite the precise language used in its letter it seems that the SRSO has confused ORSOs (and other unregistered but very competent expatriate safety men) with some other well-known but, mercifully few, expatriates who claim to be safety men by virtue of their inflated titles rather than their ability.

As I am one of a very limited number of ORSOs, I take particular exception to being told, by implication, that my ability to be effective in accident prevention is questionable. The executive committee of the SRSO, comprises, in general, experienced safety officers who hold some of the top safety jobs in the territory. Some of them are involved in high level policy discussion on the subject of occupational safety and health in Hong Kong.

So they should be aware of the very limited supply of registered safety officers who are experienced enough to properly advise management on the current exceptionally high level of construction activity. Given this, assumed, degree of awareness the SRSO is in a position to understand the absolute need to import expatriate safety practitioners to assist in the safe completion of the works. I am very surprised to note the weakness of the SRSO's arguments and objections. I am even more surprised, and very concerned, at what can only be described as the political and possibly racial overtones its letter contains.

I am reliably informed that the executive committee was required to address this topic by its members. If this is the case it should have taken the time to fully and properly analyse the situation and make meaningful recommendations rather than publish this very ill-considered and patently foolish letter.

The SRSO would be well advised to consider why the local stock of younger safety officers are so unprepared to face this new challenge. Could it be that the SRSO and, similar organisations, have failed to address their responsibility to the continuing professional development of their members? Actually the society should be thankful that most expatriate safety practitioners are training and enhancing the professional skills of its members for it. I have used the term 'competent' several times in this letter my definition of that word relates to 'a person's actual ability to carry out a function'. Similarly my use of the term 'registered' relates to the Hong Kong legal terminology which denotes a person's legal ability to sign statuary forms but does not imply competence.

Hong Kong is a business town. Therefore If the very poor pre-Airport Construction Project construction safety standards were still acceptable here then contractors and employers would still be able to get away with employing badly trained, inexperienced and low-calibre safety staff. The fact that a more professional style of safety management is now firmly in place means that only those local safety officers who can demonstrate their ability and willingness to accept and operate the new systems have been employed. Any others who are able and willing are welcome to work with us on the ACP, but I am afraid that a large number of them have got some catching up to do. So until employers can find enough local people who can do the job properly there will be an undisputed need to bring in competent expatriates.

Finally, I challenge the SRSO to an open debate on this topic. Mr Lee you have got my number, give me a call.

ANTHONY HILL Clear Water Bay '