Poor maintenance caused collapse

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 October, 2011, 12:00am


Poor maintenance was to blame for the collapse of a canopy in Tuen Mun that seriously injured a man and damaged several cars, a Buildings Department investigation has found.

But officials say they cannot prosecute anyone as neglecting maintenance is not an offence.

The 40-metre by two-metre canopy fell off the Winfield Industrial Building in Kin Kwan Street in June.

The department said yesterday an extra layer of concrete laid on the canopy to even out its surface had blocked drainage holes. Accumulated water had then seeped into the canopy and corroded the reinforcing bars.

It said the investigation did not reveal any deficiency in the design and construction of the canopy, adding that a lack of proper and regular maintenance had led to the collapse.

Assistant Director of Buildings Cheung Tin-cheung said the owner should take full responsibility for keeping the building safe by carrying out regular inspections and maintenance.

'If the owner had carried out regular maintenance, the collapse could have been prevented,' Cheung said.

But the department would not take any legal action against the owner as it was not an offence under the Buildings Ordinance if that was not done.

Under existing rules, the department only inspects buildings if it receives a complaint. It will only order owners to carry out repairs if problems are found. If these orders are ignored, the department can then act against the owners, who could face up to a year in jail and a HK$50,000 fine.

It said it had not received any complaints about the canopy before it collapsed.

But Wong Chi-kin, owner of the K. & F. Car Services Company, which operates from the building, said he had repeatedly complained to the department about water dripping from the canopy - most recently early this year - and officials had been there to check. 'The water even caused rusting of my gate,' he said.

The department said the building had last been inspected in 2001 during a crackdown on illegal structures. But the extra concrete layer had not been added then and no major problem was found. It was not clear when the layer was applied.

The department is drafting legislation that will make owners legally obliged to carry out regular inspections. Cheung said the department hoped the new law could be enacted next year.

In an operation to inspect 3,060 similar canopies following the collapse, the department found 594 with various degrees of deficient maintenance, causing defects such as concrete spalling - flaking away of plaster, leaving reinforcing iron exposed. Most were commercial buildings, and none posed immediate danger.

A spokeswoman for the department said the complaints about dripping water were handled by a joint office of the department and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, and were unrelated to the collapse.