Bridge platform was approved by Highways Department ahead of fatal accident
Two workers were killed and three others injured last month when the platform they were dismantling on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge construction site suddenly collapsed
In a new twist to the fatal accident last month that killed two workers at a bridge construction site, it emerged on Wednesday that the contractor accused of breaching safety rules had plans for the platform approved by the Highways Department before work began.
The revelation came as lawmakers at a Legislative Council manpower panel meeting called for the government to impose more severe punishments for violations of industrial safety regulations in the wake of the recent fatalities at the sea-based construction site of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.
Two workers were killed and three others injured last month when the platform they were dismantling underneath a viaduct outside Tai O suddenly collapsed. The workers were hooked to the platform with harnesses, and fell into the sea along with the platform.
Contractor Dragages-China Harbour-VSL Joint Venture has been accused of breaching safety rules by allowing the workers to hook their safety belts to a floating platform instead of a secured structure.
The Highways Department’s bridge manager Albert Lee Wai-bun said the safety guideline had been very clear and when a platform became floating without any support, workers’ safety belts should not have been hooked to it. “I don’t think that the contractor’s approach was a safe approach,” he said.
He also confirmed that the contractor had submitted the platform construction plans to the department’s engineering staff for vetting before the work could proceed. But he stopped short of disclosing further details, saying an independent task force was still investigating the incident. The task force is due to submit a report to the director of highways in three months.
Since construction began in 2011 a total of 10 workers have died and more than 600 have been injured while working on the bridge, in a total of 275 incidents.
Lawmaker Michael Luk Chung-hung, of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said past sentencing records showed the punishment for offenders was not a sufficient deterrent.
“Over the past 10 years, the penalties for 121 industrial accident cases involving the death of 331 people amounted to a total of HK$12 million,” he said.
“It means the average penalty per case was less than HK$100,000. For some cases that caused fatalities, the fine was only about HK$92,000 per case. How can the penalties serve as a deterrent to the sector?” he asked.
Andrew Wan Siu-kin, of the Democratic Party also called for harsher punishments, pointing out that as far as he knew the heaviest penalty imposed was only a fine of HK$120,000 in 2014. Under the law, those in breach of industrial safety requirements are subject to a maximum fine of HK$500,000 and a five-year prison term. “I think these figures show there is a need for the law to be amended,” he said.
But Commissioner for Labour Carlson Chan Ka-shun was non-committal, only saying that there was room for a review of the law. Since 2011, the labour department issued 51 notices for suspension of work, 230 notices for improvement of works and brought 329 prosecutions.
As for the construction sector, Chansaid 1,756 inspections were carried out in the past two weeks, with 197 notices issued to demand the suspension or improvement of work procedures and 132 prosecutions to be brought.
Occupational Safety and Health Council chairman Conrad Wong Tin-cheung revealed a registration system for safety controllers would be launched by the end of the year, although the mechanism would be voluntary and not be made into law.
Additional reporting by Raymond Yeung