Lessons in safety need to be learned again

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 3:16am

Whenever a terrible disaster occurs, whether it is a fatal blaze or ferry collision, the questions asked are the same. How did it happen? Is anyone responsible? And above all, how can it be avoided? It is as much about doing justice to those who suffer as learning our lesson. It is imperative that no questions are left unanswered.

Sadly, many queries remain three years after the building collapse in To Kwa Wan. The five-storey residential block, apparently dilapidated and undergoing maintenance, suddenly tumbled and crushed four people to death. Since then, a government probe, an inquest and, recently, a criminal trial have been held. The court ruled that a 77-year-old worker was likely to have caused damage to the building with his repair work on the ground floor. But the evidence does not suggest to what extent it triggered the immediate collapse. Families of the victims were understandably outraged that the elderly man, the only person prosecuted over the accident, could walk away with only a HK$10,000 fine.

The worker described himself as a scapegoat, insisting the Buildings Department was to blame because it had failed to take action even when alerted to the problem. Regrettably, the department has shied away from shouldering responsibility. It does not appear to be enthusiastic about following up the suggestion by the Coroner's Court to improve inspection and enforcement. Nor would it say how many recommendations put forward by its own expert group had been implemented. The response falls short of that required from an authority in charge of building safety.

Residents and businesses, too, are also responsible for the well-being of the place they live and trade in. It is their duty to keep buildings in good shape and seek help from experts and the authorities when problems arise.

We hope it will not take another fatal accident to instil a greater sense of urgency about improving public safety.