An avoidable tragedy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 June, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 June, 1993, 12:00am

TWELVE workers died yesterday in Hongkong's worst building site disaster and it may seem trite to say that they died needlessly, that the accident should never have happened. But one point is becoming clear: the tragedy was avoidable. The workers, including a 16-year-old youth doing a holiday job, were killed when a lift crashed down the side of a building under construction. The accident will be investigated but whatever is discovered one indisputable fact is that the lift was seriously overcrowded.

The lift was designed to carry eight men but it was carrying 12. Even allowing that any reputable lift manufacturer will order a margin of safety, overloading a lift by 50 per cent is reckless.

The overcrowding may not be the sole cause of the disaster. But overloading is understood not to be unusual on building sites, especially at the beginning and end of work breaks. Workers, the site foreman, the hoist operator and the contractor employing them all have a responsibility to ensure safety rules are observed.

Labour unions rightly demand that hoist operators be licensed, as this should also ensure they are properly trained and drilled in safety regulations. However, the Acting Chief Factory Inspector has also promised the contractor or the site controller would be prosecuted immediately, if it were found that safety regulations had been flouted.

That is the right approach. The blame for the tragedy has not yet been allotted but as a matter of general policy contractors must not be allowed to shrug off their responsibilities, as so often happens, by blaming the labourers. And the Government must ensure that penalties are high enough to let the courts impose heavy punishments, so that site disciplines will be enforced strictly.