Improve Hong Kong's glass safety testing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2012, 3:04am

High-rise luxury housing blocks are so common in Hong Kong that the safety of their installations has been taken for granted. Their sleek design and sky-high prices are often assumed to be a guarantee of high-quality workmanship and good management. Sadly, this is not always the case. The low standards imposed by the building authorities have apparently added to the problems.

A South China Morning Post investigation found that tempered glass panes at some high-end residential complexes have become a threat to public safety. It is shocking to learn that there were more than 150 cases of breakage in recent years, including the 60 panels that shattered or fell from The Arch since 2008 according to the estate owners' committee. The figures are probably just the tip of the iceberg, as cases that didn't cause injury may have gone unreported.

Residents are naturally concerned about their own safety and possible depreciation in the value of their property. But more worrying is the civil and criminal liabilities in case of third-party injuries. Even if the breakage stemmed from the use of substandard glass panes procured by the developer, it is the owner who is responsible for objects that fall from height. In addition to possible civil damages claimed by the injured, the owner is also liable to a fine of HK$10,000 and six months' jail.

Experts say impurities in the manufacturing process may cause the glass panes to break in a few years. That makes safety tests all the more important. But the testing standards imposed by the Buildings Department are apparently much more lenient than elsewhere. Questions have to be asked as to why the department only stipulates a two-hour process to eliminate impurities in glass panes, way below the longer hours required in some European states.

At stake is public safety. There is a strong case for more stringent safety standards. Manufacturers of substandard products should also be held responsible. Officials should not wait until more injuries occur.