Ngau Tau Kok fire

Hong Kong mini-storage operators act on fewer than 5pc of fire abatement notices

Government reveals that just three facilities have complied fully one year after fire and five to six operators may be prosecuted for doing nothing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 8:50pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 9:25pm

Operators of mini-storage facilities have acted on fewer than 5 per cent of some 4,900 fire hazard abatement notices issued by the Fire Services Department. This comes as city-wide inspections initiated after a fatal fire last June are coming to an end.

The fire in a Ngau Tau Kok indstrial building housing mini-storage facilities left two firefighters dead.

A total of 764 mini-storage facilities, accounting for 86 per cent of the total, were given notices. Yet only three facilities had rectified all problems specified by the department.

“The department is considering prosecuting five to six operators who have done nothing after receiving notices,” a department spokeswoman said.

Playing with fire: deadly failings of Hong Kong’s booming storage trade

Deputy chief fire officer Chui Man-leung said 53 facilities had shut down after receiving notices. But Hong Kong Mini Storage Association chairman Peter Hung Kai-kei said more than 100 had shut down over the past year for various reasons.

The Fire Services Department sets out space requirements for facilities as well as the need for clear escape route directions and rescue windows.

“Usable space will be cut down to 30 to 40 per cent if the requirement is met,” said Luigi La Tona, executive director of the Self Storage Association Asia.

According to Chui, the department had accepted an alternative to the requirement for a 2.4-metre gap between storage units after discussions with industry representative. Operators will now be allowed to bypass the arrangement if they use materials that can withstand a fire for 30 minutes, allowing a longer time for fire fighters to arrive.

Hong Kong government unearths safety violations in storage unit inspections after killer Ngau Tau Kok fire

But the industry is now bargaining for an alternative to another rule – a requirement for headroom of one metre.

This is the most stringent [requirement] in the world
Luigi La Tona, Self Storage Association Asia

“This is the most stringent [requirement] in the world,” La Tona said. “We can meet the principle of smoke and heat distribution by perforation.”

The Mini Storage Association agrees. “Experts we have hired suggest making holes in parts of the units’ walls extending into the headroom,” Hung said.

But Paul Pang Tat-choi, chairman of the fire discipline advisory panel of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, said the department’s requirements were not stringent and suggested enacting laws to regulate the industry.

“Of course, the industry wants to lease out as much as possible, but don’t forget the fire last June,” the fire engineer said.

“We are open to alternatives if they satisfy fire safety requirements,” Chui said.