Department criticised at inquest

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 August, 2010, 12:00am

A coroner criticised the Buildings Department during an inquest into the death of a woman crushed by a falling sign, because of its attitude to unauthorised building work and inadequate inspections.

On June 28, 2008, assistant beautician Lam Wai-ha, 47, was crushed by a 280kg wooden overhead sign above the entrance of a Thai restaurant in Wan Chai. The sign, measuring 547cm by 82cm by 53cm, was attached to the wall only with glue.

Coroner William Ng Sing-wai said Lam died from head injuries and her death was accidental. Lam's son, Cheung Ho-ming, did not comment on the verdict.

The sign had been in place since 2000, Ng said. It had no top cover and it had clearly deteriorated over the years from the effects of sun and rain.

He criticised the Buildings Department for inadequate inspections of what it considered tolerable unauthorised building work.

In April 2006, as part of the transfer of the restaurant's licence, surveyor Cheung Kwok-ho confirmed in writing to the department that the overhead sign was an unauthorised building work. But he was satisfied that it would pose no danger to the public and the department did not further assess it.

Former Buildings Department surveyor Lo Kwok-wai told the coroner the department received several hundred notices every month about the existence of this type of unauthorised building work. Eleven or 12 officers from the department conducted three assessments a month at random, and the sign in question had not been picked for assessment.

Ng questioned whether the overhead sign could be considered a 'lightweight shopfront overhead projection'. The definition in the department's guidelines was not specific enough, he said.

'Although the Buildings Department strongly advises applicants to remove unauthorised building works themselves, I question the effectiveness of strong advice,' Ng said.

The licensee transferring the licence knew the department had tolerated the unauthorised building work all along and would be unlikely to spend money to remove it, he said.

He urged the department to ensure that existing unauthorised building work did not become dangerous to the public because of a lack of maintenance.

A spokeswoman for the department said it had stepped up inspections and would study the coroner's recommendations.