Proposal to ban sheeting hits snag

Keith Wallis

GOVERNMENT bungling is jeopardising plans to ban thick plastic sheeting used to envelope construction and demolition sites.

Three departments - Fire Services, Buildings and Labour - have set up a working party to look at ways of outlawing the ubiquitous red, white and blue material on safety grounds.

It wants to replace it with netting and proposes hefty penalties.

But equally tough fines are planned by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) which wants to force contractors to use it under draft construction dust control regulations.

Both sides were unaware of each other's contradictory proposals.

Fred Tromp, assistant director of environmental protection in EPD's Air and Noise Division, admitted he had been left in the dark.


'We would want to talk to these other departments. But we always take the position safety must come first.' Chan Tat-king, Labour Department chief factory inspector, said the danger from sheeting was twofold.

First it acts as a sail during strong winds, pulling scaffolding over. Ten people have died in recent years as a result of wind-induced scaffolding collapses.

The material also poses a huge fire risk. But an EPD insider said it helped protect the public from falling debris and dust.

Mr Tromp agreed large parts of the EPD's dust control rules may have to be rewritten, making a nonsense of the current consultation exercise as the 10 Works Branch departments and other agencies will have to be approached again.


An EPD insider tried to put on a brave face.

'It is too early to say what the outcome might be because the plans are still subject to major changes,' he said.


Alternative measures would be to limit dust emissions from source using special suction equipment, or use flame retardant plastic sheeting.

The Hong Kong Construction Association has objected to the EPD's plan.

'Wrapping a building up in impervious plastic will make it very hot inside the building. This will make it very dangerous,' said secretary-general Patrick Chan Wing-tung.