Experts back demand for tougher penalties
STRUCTURAL and safety experts have backed workers seeking new legislation, a tripartite inspection body, and tougher penalties for both contractors and workers who break safety regulations.
They have called the Government's plan of action for the construction industry fast but misdirected, and appealed for urgent measures to protect workers and ensure buildings are safe.
Last year, 18,815 accidents and 78 deaths occurred in the construction industry and another 71 workers have died this year.
The Works Branch is scheduled to present a report to the Secretary for Education and Manpower by the end of the year, but Principal Assistant Secretary of the Works Policy Unit Peter Berry said it was unlikely to recommend tougher penalties or new legislation.
It would cover retraining, checks on equipment by engineers, and minimum training for certified operators, possibly through amendments to existing legislation, he said.
The Construction Site Workers Union has offered to support bigger fines for workers who break regulations, but said these must be backed by a tripartite approach including workers, contractors and government to change laws and the inspection process.
They said contractors had to take more responsibility.
Only about 70 per cent provided safety helmets for site workers while most did not provide safety shoes. Those who supplied safety harnesses often did not ensure hooks were in place. Scaffolding was often shaky.
Workers said the Government had focused too much on educating workers into a ''safety culture'', and not enough on making contractors accountable.
Occupational Health and Safety Council executive director Yip Yuk-lun also called for a tripartite body to conduct inspections, new regulations and tougher fines.
Present fines of no more than a few tens of thousands of dollars, even after fatal accidents, did not deter large companies from cutting corners on safety, he said.
The Building Department's Structural Engineers Association spokesman, Hui Kwok-hung, called for a review of the Building Ordinance, which he said was full of ''loopholes which lead to corruption''.
He said the 14-day statutory period for officers to grant an occupational permit after construction completion created ''an atmosphere of pressure''.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong Construction Association president Peter Lam Chun-kwong said the ICAC should look into any claims of tip-offs on random government inspections, and recommended tougher penalties for offending workers.