Safety first

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 June, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 June, 1996, 12:00am

The exact cause of the tragic platform collapse which killed six workers on the Rambler Channel Bridge on Thursday may not be known immediately. Nor is it yet certain that lax safety procedures were a cause of the deaths.

Apportioning blame will not bring the victims back or comfort their families - although it will be a factor in determining possible compensation. In the interim, the Government has already offered to assist workers to apply for help under the Employees' Compensation Ordinance.

However, the case is a reminder of the generally unimpressive site-safety standards of the Airport Core Projects and frequently poor standards elsewhere in the territory. Safety at the particular site where the accident occurred has been described as 'just average', while the main contractor, Dragages et Travaux Publics-Penta Ocean Construction, has been fined twice in the past for safety violations and is currently facing three other cases in court.

Although there has been only one other fatality on the airport projects so far this year, and three deaths during 1995, the airport still averages more than 60 injuries a year for every 1,000 workers employed.

There must now be action on longstanding demands for tighter safety rules, and more frequent site visits by government inspectors - even if this requires additional resources for the Labour Department, Works Branch and other departments with any responsibility for safety and conditions.

It is a pity that Labour Department proposals to tighten further the controls on working at heights, working on suspended platforms and the use of safety belts and nets have not yet been brought into law, though endorsed by the Labour Advisory Board. If the need is there and recognised by the board, there is no room for further delay.

There will always be accidents on building sites, whether because of human error or other causes. But the more stringent the safety regulations in force, the less likely it is that accidents will be caused by carelessness or cost-cutting. And the number of fatalities such accidents will entail should decline.

Enormous effort and expense is invested in reminding workers and employers of safety rules and their own responsibilities. Unless the laws themselves are strict, the dangers will continue to be underestimated on site and more workers will die without reason.