Abseilers can still be used

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 12:00am

I refer to Michael Wilkinson's letter (South China Morning Post, September 10), querying the amendments to Part VA of the Construction Site Safety (Amendment) Regulation and the ban on the use of abseilers from carrying out building inspections.

Mr Wilkinson asserts that abseiling is safer than scaffolds and gondolas and that it is wrong to ban the use of abseilers from carrying out building inspections.

Let me point out that the amended regulation does provide for an exemption clause enabling a contractor to justify why it is not possible to use any method other than abseiling to get the work done on external walls or slopes.

On this, we have reached an agreement with the Works Bureau, the Buildings Department and the Housing Department on the criteria for determining such exemption.

We will accept, for example, emergency situations, as in the recent case involving the falling of a concrete slab from a residential building in Mongkok, where the inspection may be done by abseiling access.

However, the remedial repair work, which requires a much longer duration of working at height and involves possibly more workers, should be carried out by safer working platforms, in a gondola or a double-row scaffold where the workers' feet can physically rest on a solid surface and they can move around.

Surely Mr Wilkinson is not trying to suggest that from a work safety and health point of view, these alternatives are inferior to an operator hung out in the air trying to get work done in the process? We have every respect for the professionalism of abseiling work, but like enforcement agents elsewhere, we should leave these high-risk tasks to occasional uses rather than as a matter of routine.

DOMINIC MAK for Commissioner for Labour