Hong Kong is an advanced metropolis. The two sides of Victoria Harbour are full of modern architectures. However, behind this flourishing scene, the number of fatal industrial accidents is persistently high. We often read about fatal industrial accidents in the news. The deceased are often the breadwinner of a family and have left behind their wives and children. Not only must the families face the devastation of losing a loved one, they also have to worry about their gloomy future. This makes our hearts wrench. In fact, have we raised the question – is it because we have not done enough work on accident prevention? Why are these tragedies repeating?
Hong Kong’s industrial casualty rate has always been quite high. In the construction accident cases in the last five years, there are around 2,000 to 3,000 cases each year. Except for 2010, where there were nine cases of fatal accident, all the other years have ten to over 20 cases. Even one fatal accident is too many – the current situation is heartbreaking. In the recent years, Hong Kong’s large scale capital constructions come one after another. In the next decade, a large amount of public and private housing will also be built. From past experience, whenever the construction industry enters the peak period, industrial accidents would surely rise. Hong Kong must be well-prepared for accident prevention. I believe that now is a critical point for industrial accidents. The government must review their current work comprehensively, in order to welcome the new developments in the future and to prevent similar tragedies from happening again.
There might be many reasons to why construction accidents happen. According to the analysis from the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims, many accidents on construction sites are related to tight deadlines, safety guidelines not updated, not enough workers or incorrect use of protective equipment. At the same time, the Labour Department does not carry out enough inspections and prosecutions and the penalties from the court are too light. There is no deterrent effect. On the other hand, people from the industry have pointed out that many workers, who work at height, e.g. scaffolding workers, think they are experienced and there is no need for them to wear a safety belt when conducting simple processes. This shows that there is a serious lack of safety awareness.
According to the latest information, in the enforcement actions of the Labour Department in the five years, prosecution cases are less than 2000 each year. Common crimes often result in fines of around $10,000+ in average. And a vast majority is prosecuting the employer, rarely are the workers prosecuted for violating the law. Therefore, the lack of prosecutions and light penalties do not have a deterrent effect. The only exception is the Labour Deparment’s “Suspension notices against activity of workplace”. Because the construction site has to temporarily stop operating, there is a bigger deterrent effect. It is the trump card of the Labour Department.
However, the trump card’s effect is too wide; other innocent workers have to stop working as well. It should not be of casual use. The government needs to target the problem of lack of prosecutions and light penalties and increase inspections and prosecutions. They should request appeal to cases where the penalty is too light and prosecute workers who violate the law knowingly. In the past, the government rarely prosecute workers who violated the law, but “nothing matters until it is personal”. If the workers know not using the safety belt or not following the safety requirements would result in prosecution, they would not dare to do so. Of course, I do not support putting the workers in jail or giving them a large fine, but community service order or occupational safety courses should be reasonable penalties.
On the other hand, to further elevate the occupational safety requirements of the construction industry, I believe we need to professionalize this industry. Currently, the construction industry is vigorously developing, but there are many concerns, these include the appalling environment of the construction site, a lack of decent management, the workers lack safety awareness etc. These issues indirectly foster the chances of accidents happening. At the same time, the construction industry is suffering from a serious shortage of newcomers. The average age of the workers is rather old. Even though the pay is generous, young people are unwilling to enter this industry, resulting in scarcity of human resources.
Therefore, to professionalize the construction industry, construction sites must introduce an overall modern management method. Safety and cleanliness must be prioritized when designing the construction site. To build a professional image, workers must undertake comprehensive safety awareness training to learn the latest techniques and strictly obey the working guidelines etc. I am aware that the above suggestion will increase the employer’s expenditure, but it can effectively raise the occupational safety level, or even attract more youngsters to enter this industry and subsequently relieve the shortage of human resources. This ensures the stable development of the construction industry; we should be looking further into this.