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Ngau Tau Kok fire

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

Operators complain crackdown has left the industry on brink of collapse, with customers facing steep rise in charges

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 December, 2016, 10:38pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 December, 2016, 11:40pm

A third of the 756 mini-storage outlets checked in a citywide inspection failed to meet fire safety regulations, six months after an inferno at a storage facility claimed the lives of two firemen.

But operators criticised the crackdown and said the strict enforcement would mean steeper costs for customers.

The storage business has boomed in recent years as people seek ways to combat limited living space amid spiralling property prices.

Summing up the inspection results on Thursday, the Fire Services Department highlighted some key major irregularities that posed serious safety risks: emergency exits with substandard locks; narrow corridors between storage zones; hose reels that failed to give enough coverage; and obstructed windows.

In the event of a fire, such problems would obstruct escape routes, get in the way of rescue work and facilitate the spreading of a fire.

A total of 1,267 fire hazard abatement notices were issued to 257 operators, of which at least 50 had complied with the fire safety requirements as of last Friday.

The Lands Department found that almost a quarter of 871 storage facilities had contravened land lease conditions as some storage facilities cannot be housed in buildings zoned for industrial use.

Some 35 per cent of storage facilities inspected by the Buildings Department had structural safety issues, while the Labour Department had initiated prosecutions against 13 storage facilities for not ensuring a safe working environment for employees.

The inspections were launched following the deadly inferno at a mini-storage facility in Ngau Tau Kok in June.

Terrance Tsang Wing-hung, the FSD’s acting assistant director of fire safety, said they expected “full compliance” from operators to make improvements within their specified time frame. More time could be given to individual operators on a case-by-case basis, he added.

“We estimated that operators may need to reduce their leasable units by 20 to 30 per cent in order to comply with regulations, but I must point out here that any commercial decision cannot override the need for public safety,” Tsang said.

The FSD identified a list of 885 mini-storage facilities across Hong Kong but cited difficulties in tracking all of them down as they do not require any prior registration.

Operators criticised the government for pushing them into a corner as a result of the crackdown.

“Some of the requirements are simply too difficult to carry out within a short period of time. Our industry is on the brink of a total collapse,” the Hong Kong Mini-Storages Association, an organisation that represents at least 25 operators, said in a statement.

A Mr Liu, who runs eight storage centres across the city from Kwun Tong to Tin Wan near Aberdeen, slammed the FSD for adopting a one-size-fits-all approach in requiring all storage centres regardless of size to leave a 2.4-metre gap between storage zones.

“It is more dangerous when bigger storage centres burn. But if the blaze occurs in a smaller centre, it is a lot easier to be put out,” he said.

Liu said prices were also almost certain to soar for his customers.

The monthly rent for an 8 sq ft space could double to HK$800 in order to make up for the reduced space as a result of complying with the enforced rules.