Improving HK’s worksite safety hinges on deterrent penalties

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 July, 2016, 12:16am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 July, 2016, 9:23pm

With the surge in building site accidents to more than 3,000 annually, there have always been questions about whether worksite standards are rigorous enough to protect construction workers.

There have been many tragedies, but safety standards at some construction sites have not been improved.

The increase in construction accidents can be attributed to the light penalty of substandard working conditions. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance, employers are liable to a maximum fine of HK$500,000 and up to six months in prison if they fail to provide a safe workplace.

However, from 2012 to 2015, the average fine of those prosecuted was less than HK$20,000 and no one had been sent to jail. As safety equipment, including ear plugs and fall protection gear probably cost more than the penalty, employers would rather be fined than fit up the workplace with proper safety equipment. Such a light penalty is unlikely to have any deterrent effect.

To cope with the causes mentioned, it is crucial for the Labour Department to have more sudden site inspections. Through these unannounced visits, officials can prosecute employers who fail to ensure workplace safety. To deter construction companies, a more serious penalty should be imposed. This can encourage construction companies to apply proper safety equipment

Another possible solution is to educate construction workers to protect their interests. If the private settlement continues, substandard workplaces will not be discovered and the penalty will only be a toothless tiger. Therefore it is extremely important to teach workers to report injuries so that they can sue for further medical claims and construction companies cannot escape their responsibilities.

Only by more deterrence, will construction companies be genuinely alarmed about worksite safety.

Gloria Tse, Tsing Yi