Inquiry launched into deaths in sewer
Government subcontractor under investigation after two workers die
An investigation has been launched into whether proper safety procedures were followed after two men working for a government subcontractor were found dead in a fume-filled sewer yesterday.
Drainage workers Wong Keung and Cheung Shue-hung, both 46, are believed to have collapsed in the drain beneath a children's playground in Sha Tin four hours before a colleague raised the alarm at about 9.30am.
They were employees of Sino Wealth Engineering, a subcontractor working for the Drainage Services Department.
Department technical secretary Robin Lee Kui-biu said the contractor apparently failed to notify the department about a confined space operation before their workers were allowed inside, as required under the safety regulations.
'They also failed to produce a permit that contained the result of their risk assessment of their work in the manhole and what safety precautions they have taken,' he said.
The repair work at the site under the Yuen Wo Playground in Yuen Wo Road had been suspended and the Drainage Services and Labour departments were investigating.
Expressing condolences to the two workers' families, Permanent Secretary for Economic Development and Labour, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said he was very concerned about the industrial accident - the second case of its type this year.
The accident also brought a call from the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims for tougher action against employers who break the rules.
The Drainage Services Department said the two men had gone into the sewer at about 5.30am to install water plugs and pumps before repair work on the sewer could begin. A colleague, Yip Ting-man, 50, went to check another manhole about 100 metres away and there were two other workers at a roadwork site about 400 metres away.
Mr Yip noticed about 6.30am that Wong and Cheung were missing and mounted a fruitless three-hour search, police said. Unable to find the pair, he told the foremen who made a report to police shortly before 9.30am. Six fire engines and an ambulance were dispatched to the scene.
Sha Tin fire station commander Wong Chun-yip said firefighters wearing breathing apparatus entered the sewer, where indications of toxic gas had been found.
'One of the victims was found unconscious face down in sewage right below the 2-metre-deep manhole,' he said. 'Minutes later, the other victim was discovered unconscious in water about one metre horizontally away from the manhole.'
Mr Wong said both victims had stopped breathing and had no pulse when they were pulled out of the manhole. They were sent to Prince of Wales Hospital, where doctors later declared them dead.
Neither victim was wearing a breathing aid or was connected to a lifeline when they were found, according to a government source.
Mr Lee, the department technical secretary, said regulations required someone to stand outside a manhole and hold a lifeline attached to workers inside the drain. Checks should be carried out to ensure there was enough oxygen and no poisonous gas in a sewer before workers entered, he said.
Mr Lee said the main contractor - Shun Yuen Construction Company - had to submit a report on the incident within 24 hours.
Chan Kam-hong, the chief executive of the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims, said Cheung, the family breadwinner, was survived by his wife, a nine-year-old son and five-year-old daughter. Wong had four children.
The two workers, both aged 46, entered the manhole in the Yuen Wo Playground in Yuen Wo Road, Sha Tin at about 5.30am.
Their colleagues called the police at 9.30am to report that they were missing.
Firemen wearing breathing apparatus entered the manhole and found the two unconscious in the sewer
shortly before 10am. The two were taken to hospital where they were declared dead.