Suicides in Hong Kong

Hong Kong cannot afford to lag behind on workplace safety or suicide prevention

Paul Yip calls on all stakeholders in the community to create a culture of accountability and ownership to address the high rates of construction site fatalities in the city and prevent student suicide

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 2:29pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 7:33pm

I recently attended a summit in Sydney on zero suicides, a global movement to improve health care systems towards that goal. Among participants from 16 nations, a presentation by Lend Lease, on reducing fatalities at construction sites, stood out.

The company leadership at Lend Lease adopts a “global minimum requirements” system to ensure physical and operational safety standards, supported by localised guidelines. They have effective governance in which the online safety compliance reporting system is customised to identify major areas of risk.

One worker killed and two injured in Hong Kong construction site fall

Data is collected to provide timely monitoring, manage risks and share lessons learned. Education and training ensures each employee and third party, including contractors, receives technical training to work safely. Safety management is continuously monitored, audited and reviewed to ensure it remains effective and aligned with best practices. Their efforts have seen the number of fatalities reduced to zero, and they are moving beyond that to prevent non-fatal injuries.

Sometimes, their minimum requirements for safety are higher than the local standard and could lead to higher operating costs. But they would rather lose some business than be involved in projects that do not comply with their minimum requirements.

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Lend Lease’s safety programme could offer some pointers on preventing industrial accidents and suicides in Hong Kong. The recent increase in the number of fatalities on construction sites is disturbing. And with the fatality rate on Hong Kong construction sites higher than the global average, we need a culture of accountability and ownership to reduce accidents, and cultivate a strong culture of safety. We cannot put our workers at risk in order to increase productivity.

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On suicide prevention, it is encouraging to learn that the government is very concerned. The hope is that all related departments can be more proactive in responding to the call.

Preventing student suicide is an issue that concerns not just the Education Bureau, as it involves better medical and health care support, the supply of more space and recreational activities and more job opportunities. These need to be implemented by relevant bureaus and departments.

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The causes of suicide are complex; there is no silver bullet.

A well-audited and effective monitoring system is needed to provide timely feedback in order to formulate the best response.

Zero fatalities (including industrial accidents and suicides) is not an empty slogan but a challenge that all stakeholders in the community have to respond to.

Paul Yip is chair professor of the Social Work and Social Administration Department, University of Hong Kong