Decade-old work safety laws 'need urgent review' amid reports of lax standards

Support group for victims of industrial accidents say focus on deadly accidents and high-profile issues has led to neglect of widespread problems

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 August, 2014, 1:40pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 August, 2014, 4:09am

The government must carry out an extensive review of work safety laws that have not been updated for over a decade, a support group for victims of industrial accidents says.

The group has received reports from workers that safety inspections sometimes only take place on an annual basis, or every 18 months, while the perception among many workers is that the Labour Department is understaffed.

The Association for the Rights of Industrial Accidents Victims also argues that the government’s focus on high-profile issues – such as working at heights – and deadly accidents has led to neglect of other high-risk issues.

The deaths in March of two construction workers, who fell 50 stories when a platform snapped, made headlines. There have been at least 11 deadly industrial accidents so far this year.

Last year, 22 construction workers died as a result of work accidents, while 24 died on-site in 2012.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung announced in May that prosecutions and fines for deadly accidents had gone up.

But Chan Kam-hong, the group’s chief executive, says safety standards across the board need to rise.

“The problem is [the media] only report on the construction industry. In many other industries, not so many people die,” Chan said. “Now, [the government] is putting all its efforts into the construction industry.

“People always think that falling from a chair is not a problem,” said Chan. But injuries from less high-profile accidents are common and need to be addressed, he said.

Chan said his group regularly deals with people who have sustained injuries in “all industries”, from teachers to journalists to delivery people, who come to the association for support and help finding jobs.

The group is calling on the government to conduct an urgent review of the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance, last updated more than 10 years ago.

Production methods change “every day” and so the law must evolve more frequently, Chan said.

The group is also proposing a study to assess the frequency needed for safety inspections, as several workers tell them that inspections only take place “sometimes once a year, or every one and a half years”, Chan said.

Employees also say that the Labour Department appears to be understaffed.

The group says it has had little response from the department, but lacks the funds to carry out research itself.

“The government needs to open their mind and listen to the people,” Chan said.