Conflicting policies work against building safety

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 September, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 September, 1999, 12:00am

At a time when there are almost daily reports of tragic accidents causing death and injury from masonry falling from some of Hong Kong's older buildings, it must come as a surprise to many that one government department is going to great lengths to prevent the inspections of those same buildings.

Legislators have amended the current regulations to severely restrict the use of boatswains chairs and 'similar equipment'.

The Occupational Safety Division of the Labour Department has been enthusiastically enforcing those regulations (even though the amendment does not come into effect until September 10).

The 'similar equipment' to which they refer is rope access. Rope access is a technique developed from sport climbing and is accepted worldwide as an effective and, above all, safe method of gaining access to high-rise buildings.

This change in the regulations is said to be on the grounds of safety.

However, prior to making this decision to amend the regulations, the legislators did not consult anyone in the rope access industry and the Labour Department has consistently refused to attend a demonstration seminar intended to explain the many advantages of this type of work, which is statistically much safer than the use of scaffolding.

It is a sad state of affairs when one government department, the Building Department, is actively promoting a building safety inspection scheme and at the same time the Labour Department is directly opposing them.

No other means of inspecting the buildings has been suggested except scaffolding or gondolas, neither of which are suitable alternatives.