WONG Chun-man hates school. Not that he is a reluctant student, far from it, the 16-year-old used to come top of his class. But not anymore, not since his father died in an accident at work three years ago. The thought of collecting receipts each time he buys textbooks and meals at school, so that he can claim the money from the Social Welfare Department, makes Chun-man cringe. ''I hate being asked by classmates and friends why I have to collect a receipt every time I spend money . . . we don't spend our own money,'' the F5 student tells his mother. ''I am just a registered beggar.'' It was not until last month that the Wong family stopped living on public assistance. The compensation for Mr Wong's accident finally came through, but the damage has been done. In fact, when Mr Wong died in an industrial accident in 1990, his wife wasn't sure whether she had become a beggar or a criminal. ''For months after my husband's death, I had to visit, and was interrogated by, various government departments to sort out the public assistance before the compensation money was granted,'' she said. ''I'd lost my husband and all [the Government] could do was to treat me like a criminal.'' Having spent hours giving details and reliving the horror of her husband's death, Mrs Wong finally received $424,000. ''The worst part is that my children are leading a very depressed life since their father's death,'' she said. ''I often find them crying in toilets. My husband loved them all. But at least we are spending our own money now.'' Mr Wong, a 41-year-old roadwork labourer, was killed in a fatal blast after drilling into an unmarked electric cable. He was among the 78 people who died in industrial accidents that year. Since then, the fatalities have continued to rise. The latest industrial accident statistics, due out next week, are expected to arouse public concern. Figures already available paint a bleak picture. The number of workers killed in industrial accidents leapt from 64 in 1992 to 92 last year, with 71 deaths in 1991. Even more alarming, 80 of last year's fatalities happened on construction sites - a big jump from 48 in 1992, and 54 in 1991. Employers and government officials say the overall picture shows a gradual decrease in non-fatal accidents, with the drastic increase in fatalities last year due to a number of serious accidents. Yip Yuk-lun, executive director of the Occupational Safety and Health Council (OSHC), said safety measures such as a control system had been implemented on government construction sites and the situation had improved. ''The construction industry now accounts for many of the accidents because the manufacturing industry has moved up north across the border,'' Mr Yip said. ''But from what we've heard, the number of non-fatal accidents is decreasing.'' Others are less convinced. University of Hong Kong academics say the rate at which Hong Kong construction workers suffer serious injuries is more worrying than the overall accident figures. Dr Steve Rowlinson and Helen Lingard, of the department of surveying, said about three construction workers in every thousand suffered a major injury each year in Britain: ''The equivalent figure for Hong Kong in 1990 was 66 per thousand per year, and this figure has risen steadily since 1986.'' The latest Office of the Commission of Insurance annual report shows total net claims for employee compensation in 1992 were $713.76 million, up from $584.97 million in the previous year. The level of industrial accidents is costing the insurance industry a fortune. FIGURES obtained from the Labour Department show total compensation paid by insurance companies has increased from about $526 million in 1991 to $670 million in 1992. ''This loss is caused mainly by the intense competition, an increase in the number of accidents and much larger claims in civil lawsuits,'' said Choy Kam-shing, manager of the Accident Insurance Association of Hong Kong (AIAHK). For injured workers, claiming compensation can be a nightmare of waiting and welfare. It is not uncommon for them and, in particular, for the families of workers killed on the job, to wait months, if not years for compensation, the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims says. Chan Kam-hong, its chief executive, said the victims and their contributions to the society were often neglected by the authorities. ''In many cases, the minimum waiting time for compensation in fatal cases is 11/2 to two years,'' he said. ''The main reason is that there is a serious backlog of court cases in our judiciary system which jams compensation applications. ''At the moment, applications for compensation have to go through district courts, which also deal with robberies, thefts and other criminal cases. The Government should set up a special tribunal to deal with industrial accident compensation applicationsand complaints.'' Most of the complaints Mr Chan receives are about delayed or non-payment of benefits from injury cases, with many victims' families having to rely on public assistance while they wait. ''Many relatives are uncertain, and even fear that they will not receive any money at all,'' he said. ''They are kept in the dark and any forward planning is impossible.'' Under the Employees' Compensation Ordinance, employers must make periodical payments of two-thirds of the workers' monthly salary for up to two years while they recover from their injuries. ''But instead, workers are often asked to borrow money from either employers or other sources,'' Mr Chan said. ''When employees complain to the Labour Department, they are turned away and asked to approach the Legal Department instead. ''Each year there are about 60,000 to 70,000 industrial accidents and only one to two employers are caught by the Government. As a result, many injured workers are forced to go back to work before they have fully recovered.'' The Labour Department disputes these allegations. A senior labour officer with the employees' compensation division, said: ''Compensation for fatal cases may take a long time to be processed, but that is because their application needs to go through courts. ''Normally the Labour Department passes all the victim details on to the Legal Department within two to three months so their claims can be processed as soon as possible. ''However, there are cases which involve relatives living on the mainland. To process these applications will need even more time because the mainland authorities and more paperwork are involved.'' Penalties are another cause for complaint. Workers' groups were outraged when the Aoki Corporation, which pleaded guilty to eight charges in relation to a hoist failure in which 12 workers were killed, was fined $70,000 earlier this month - less than one-fifth of the maximum possible, Mr Chan said. But Sung Kwan-chak, senior labour officer of the Prosecutions Division, said the department had no say in the fine - factors such as the company's past record were taken into account. ''If we feel that the fine is too low, we'll ask the Legal Department to look at the decision for an appeal and review,'' he said. It has done so in the Aoki case. Mr Chow said it was unusual for employers to deny periodical payments: ''[Mr Chan's claim] suggests that a majority of the employers are breaking the law. I think what happens is that there is often misunderstanding between the employers and employees. ''For instance, one reason for delayed payment is that some employers have wrongly assumed that they do not have to compensate their workers until the insurance company pays up.'' Mr Choy of the AIAHK said insurance companies offered discounts to contractors with sound safety records. But trying to determine who is responsible for work site safety is often futile and inevitably becomes a finger pointing exercise. The Employers' Federation of Hong Kong and the OSHC agree the main problem lies with sub-contractors, who usually pay little or no attention to safety. But Mr Yip of the OSHC suggested contractors should take responsibility for ensuring their sub-contractors follow the rules: ''If they can maintain and control the quality of the construction, why not safety for the workers too? Many of them just wouldn't be bothered.'' Patrick Chan, secretary general of the Hong Kong Construction Association, said it was unfair to point the finger at main contractors for the increase in industrial accidents. ''At the moment, the law penalises mainly the main contractors and not the workers or sub-contractors, but sometimes it is them who cause the accidents, so there is something wrong in the implementation of the law.'' The Assistant Commssioner for Labour, Mak Sai-yiu, said new industrial safety legislation had been drafted and would go to the Legislative Council this year. Also, 11 new inspectors will be appointed, meeting the department's recruitment target. Meanwhile, as the finger pointing goes on, so do the industrial accidents. And for Mrs Wong, who continues to draw her monthly $8,000 compensation - her husband used to earn over $10,000 a month - until it runs out in about four years' time, whatever is done now is too late.