Following is a question by the Hon Chan Kin-por and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council March 4:
In the first half of last year, the number of occupational injuries and deaths was over 20 000 and, among them, 100 were fatal cases, which had increased by one-fourth as compared to the 80 cases in the first half of 2007. It is learnt that since many of the injured or deceased employees were the breadwinners of their families, the casualties have driven the livelihood of the families concerned into great difficulties. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether it will introduce new measures to reduce the occurrence of occupational injuries and deaths; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) of the details of the short-term, mid-term and long-term support services currently provided to families of victims of occupational injuries and deaths; and whether it will review the need to enhance such support services; and
(c) given that compensation for employees’ injuries and deaths is a lump sum payment, whether the Government has any long-term measure to help the families concerned so that their young family members will not drop out of school because of financial problems?
The Government attaches great importance to occupational safety and health, and is committed to ensuring that risks to the safety and health of people at work are properly managed through legislation and enforcement, publicity and promotion, as well as education and training.
Over the past ten years, through the concerted efforts of all parties concerned, including employers, employees, safety practitioners, other stakeholders and the Government, there was a steady decline in both the number and the rate of occupational injuries. The number of occupational injuries had dropped from 63,526 in 1998 to 43,979 in 2007, representing a decline of 30.8%. The injury rate per 1 000 employees in the corresponding period had dropped from 26.7 to 16.9, down by 36.9%.
The overall number of occupational injuries was on the decline despite a slight increase in the number of occupational fatalities to 140 in the first three quarters of 2008 as compared with 129 cases in the corresponding period of 2007. In the first three quarters of 2008, the number of occupational injuries in all workplaces was 32,056, representing a drop of 3.9% from 33,349 in the corresponding period of 2007. The injury rate per 1,000 employees also decreased from 17.1 in the same period to 16.1, down by 5.8%.
My replies to the three parts of the Hon Chan Kin-por’s question are as follows:
(a) In response to the recent trend of occupational accidents, the Labour Department (LD) has implemented a series of measures to promote the occupational safety and health awareness of employers and employees. These included enforcement campaigns as well as publicity and promotional drives, primarily targeting industries which are more prone to accidents, such as the construction and catering industries, as well as high-risk work activities like repair, maintenance, alteration and addition (RMAA) works, work-at-height and container handling.
On the enforcement front, apart from regular inspections to workplaces to ensure compliance with the relevant occupational safety and health legislation, LD also launched in 2008 a number of enforcement campaigns, focusing on high-risk trades like construction, RMAA works, cargo and container handling. During these special enforcement exercises, LD officers would initiate prosecutions against offenders of work safety legislation involving unsafe work-at-height, unsafe lifting operations, non-compliance with fire safety measures and non-provision/wearing of personal protective equipment. LD would also issue improvement notices to secure compliance with the provisions of relevant legislation as well as suspension notices to require action to rectify imminent risks of death or serious bodily injury.
As to publicity and promotion, we organised a series of campaigns aimed at heightening safety awareness among employers and employees and cultivating a positive safety culture in workplaces. Some of these activities were organised in collaboration with relevant stakeholders. Major promotional and publicity activities conducted in 2008 included the Construction Industry Safety Award Scheme, the Catering Industry Safety Award Scheme, as well as a large-scale seminar on work-at-height and RMAA safety.
In view of the impending commencement of major infrastructure projects and acceleration of minor works by the Government for the creation of jobs, we will focus more enforcement efforts on construction hazards such as work-at-height, RMAA works, use of electricity, tower crane operations, construction vehicles and mobile plants to deter unsafe practices.
We will also keep up our efforts in promoting the occupational safety and health awareness of workers in the construction and catering industries through the annual safety awards for these two industries.
(b) According to the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance (Chapter 282), if an employee sustains an injury or dies as a result of an accident arising out of and in the course of employment, his employer is liable to pay compensation under the Ordinance. The items of compensation include the following:
(i) The employer shall pay the injured employee periodical payments during his period of incapacity (i.e. compensation for temporary incapacity) at the rate of 80% of the difference between the employee’s monthly earnings at the time of the accident and his monthly earnings during the period of temporary incapacity for a maximum of 24 months. The District Court may allow a further period of no longer than 12 months;
(ii) The employer is liable to pay a one-off compensation for the injured employee’s permanent incapacity. The amount of compensation payable is calculated with reference to the degree of the loss of earning capacity caused by the injury, and the age and monthly earnings of the injured employee at the time of the accident. The maximum amount of compensation is $2,016,000;
(iii) Where the employer has not provided adequate free medical treatment to the injured employee, the employer is liable to pay medical expenses in respect of the period during which the employee receives medical treatment. The daily maximum is $200. But the maximum of medical expenses payable for the injured employee receiving both in-patient and out-patient medical treatment on the same day is $280;
(iv) If the injured employee requires a prosthesis or surgical appliance, his employer is liable to pay the initial costs of supplying and fitting the prosthesis or surgical appliance up to a maximum amount of $33,000 and the costs of repair and renewal of such items during a period of 10 years up to a maximum amount of $100,000;
(v) If the injured employee suffers from permanent incapacity and is unable to perform the essential actions of life without the attention of another person, an additional compensation for attention shall be payable, subject to a maximum amount of $412,000;
(vi) If an employee dies as a result of an accident arising out of and in the course of employment, his employer shall be liable to pay a one-off compensation for death to his surviving members of the family. The amount of compensation payable is calculated with reference to the age and monthly earnings of the deceased employee at the time of the accident. The maximum amount of compensation is $1,764,000; and
(vii) The employer is liable to reimburse funeral and medical attendance expenses to the person who has paid such expenses in respect of the deceased employee, subject to a maximum of $35,000.
Where an injury to an employee is caused by the negligence or other wrongful act of an employer, the employee may claim for damages by action at common law in addition to the statutory compensation. The amount of damages is to be decided by the Court.
If an injured employee or the family members of a deceased employee have financial difficulty while awaiting the compensation, they may get a speedy relief through applying for an interest-free loan from the “Employees’ Compensation Loan Scheme” under LD. The maximum amount of loan for each case is $15,000. Where the injured employee or his family members require financial or other support services, LD would, according to their needs and willingness, refer them to the Social Welfare Department (SWD) or other relevant organisations for necessary assistance. If families of victims of accidents at work have financial difficulties, they may consider applying for the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) which would bring their income up to a prescribed level in order to meet their basic needs.
There is an extensive network of 61 Integrated Family Service Centres operated by SWD and non-governmental organisations over the territory to provide a continuum of preventive, supportive and remedial services to those in need, including families of victims of accidents at work. Social workers will thoroughly assess their circumstances and needs and provide appropriate services. Services provided to help them work out positive ways to manage their problems and to strengthen their skills in coping with emotional distress as well as solving problems may include counselling, supportive group, enquiry service, outreaching service, referrals for financial assistance, child care services, etc. Clinical psychological service may also be arranged as appropriate for those who are depressed or in a state of severe emotional distress.
(c) It is the Government’s student finance policy to ensure that no student should be deprived of education due to a lack of means. Through the Student Financial Assistance Agency (SFAA), we provide various financial assistance schemes for families with financial difficulties. These are applicable to pre-primary, primary and secondary students. SFAA also offers means-tested and non-means-tested financial assistance schemes applicable to post-secondary students. All families with financial difficulties (including families facing financial difficulties owing to the occupational injuries of family members) may approach SFAA to apply for assistance according to their individual needs, in order to meet education and related expenses of their children.