Delay could wreck lives

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 August, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 August, 1996, 12:00am

It is difficult to know who is more to blame for putting the lives of up to 20,000 Hong Kong users of liquefied petroleum gas at risk, by the deliberate delay in revealing the existence of a defective regulator that could cause such cylinders to leak and explode.

Both Shell and the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department knew about the problem at least as early as last Friday. Government engineers even admit they first realised there might be some danger more than two weeks ago. But the public was not warned until Tuesday, even though the first incident of leakage had been reported several days earlier.

Various unsatisfactory reasons have been advanced for allowing this dangerous delay. Shell cited 'logistical' reasons, saying it needed time to stockpile enough spare parts with which to correct the fault. The Government claims its earlier tests were inconclusive and it was only on Tuesday morning that they had enough evidence to insist Shell issue a warning.

Whatever the real reason, neither the Government nor Shell seem to have treated public safety as their top priority. The fact the fault is considered so serious that users are now being urged not to use their gas appliances until any affected cylinders have been replaced only reinforces how inexcusable it was to delay this warning for so long. Stockpiling spares is no excuse for risking lives. Legislators are right to be concerned about how this incident was handled, and Hong Kong should count itself lucky that no one lost their lives as a result of delay.