Advance warning on building inspections amounts to cheating, says official
By BERYL COOK
TIP-OFFS and loopholes in construction site inspections have been condemned as a threat to workers' lives and building standards.
The Construction Site Workers General Union has expressed concern that ineffective inspections lead to poor site safety and conditions, which erode building standards.
''The poor lighting, ventilation and safety measures on Hong Kong's construction sites would certainly affect the overall quality of buildings,'' the union said.
Individual structure and design officials have expressed concern that tip-offs, a shortage of inspectors and the Government's self-regulation policy lead to lax inspections which are often the final check on building standards.
Building Department Structural Engineers Association spokesman Hui Kwok-hung said advance warning on supposedly random inspections and false samples were ''cheating and breaking down the quality assurance process, when the whole purpose is to build something safe''.
A professional from another department said building standards had been improving but tip-offs on random inspections ''suggests we could be heading toward corruption''.
Official spokesmen for the Housing, Architectural Services, Labour and Building departments said their inspections were effective.
One Building Department spokesman said most of their inspections to monitor building standards were random ''and if a visual inspection suggests it is necessary, cement samples are taken and tested at certified laboratories''.
The Housing Authority, the largest construction body in Hong Kong, stepped up controls about eight years ago after a leading contractor and Government officials were prosecuted for corruption and 26 housing blocks at 11 estates had to be demolished because they were built with substandard concrete.
The department set up its own laboratory for testing materials soon after the inquiry, and introduced compulsory ISO 9000 standards for contractors on Government jobs earlier this year.
But department officials say their efforts were tempered by Government policy and manpower.
The Housing Department's Assistant Director for Housing, architect Stephen Poon Sing-chi, admitted contractors were told of an inspection in advance.
He said advance warning and regularity did not defeat the purpose, because contractors did not know which spot would be inspected.
The visits at least prompted installation of safety measures, he said, and contractors could not hide obvious defects.
He said contractors were paid to provide work spelled out in a contract, and the department's 400 professional architects, engineers and surveyors could only oversee projects, not do the work for them.
Mr Poon said the department used a ''carrot and stick'' approach in which only contractors who came out in the top 75 per cent in safety and standard inspections could compete for tenders for the next quarter.