It’s in the mini-storage industry’s own interest to reduce risks

While the government appears to have attached a greater sense of urgency to improving the safety of these warehouses, the figures show that compliance remains an issue.

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 January, 2017, 2:04am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 January, 2017, 2:04am

The safety of old industrial buildings in Hong Kong has been grossly neglected over the years. Despite repeated fatal accidents, compliance with fire and structural safety rules still leaves much to be desired. Outdated standards and inadequate law enforcement makes the buildings potential deathtraps when things go wrong. The last tragedy was just six months ago, with two firemen killed in a blaze inside a warehouse converted into mini-storage facilities for local households.

A joint operation by the Fire Services, Buildings, Lands and Labour departments showed the problems appeared to be far more serious than previously thought. So far some 885 storage facilities have been identified, significantly more than the 480 reported by the government shortly after the fire. About one third of the 756 inspected were found to have breached fire safety rules. A total of 1,267 fire hazard abatement notices have been issued, but only 50 have been complied with.

Six months after fatal fire, a third of mini-storage centres in Hong Kong found to breach safety rules

There also are irregularities in building safety, with 259 premises given 571 orders of rectification. Separately, at least 193 places have violated land-use restrictions. The Labour Department also initiated prosecutions against 13 facilities for failing to provide a safe working environment for their workers. The figures underlined the scale of the problems of such facilities, which are increasingly popular among households in need of extra storage space.

While the government appears to have attached a greater sense of urgency to improving the safety of these warehouses, the figures show that compliance remains an issue. Understandably, rectification involving structural changes take time. That is why the authorities said they were prepared to give some leeway to operators who are addressing the problems proactively. But officials also warned that they would get tough on those who deliberately drag their feet. The approach adopted by the authorities appears to be sensible.

The industry warned that some rules were so restrictive that they all might go out of business. If this is the case, it is only because the facilities have been operating with little regard to the rules. Inevitably, the revamp will lead to restructuring and consolidation. It is in the industry’s own interest to do whatever it takes to reduce safety hazards that would otherwise jeopardise the continued provision of such popular storage facilities for small households across the city.