Hongkong Electric faces disciplinary action from two major government departments this week, breaking Highways Department (HyD) and Transport Department (TD) rules on pedestrian and transport safety at a Wan Chai excavation site.
A series of surprise audits by Highways Department at an emergency cable works in Wan Chai last month found the Johnston Road site in “non compliance concerning the arrangement of pedestrian diversion”, said a Highways Department spokesperson. The inspection also revealed the firm had failed to notify either police or TD of its scheme, in contravention of its permit rules.
“We trust that the authorities would take follow-up actions as appropriate,” said a HyD spokesperson, referring to the police and TD.
At the worksite, HEC’s contractors had blocked off the entire footpath without making any arrangements for pedestrians. In these situations, according to HyD Code of Practice, companies should protect pedestrians by creating a safe path in the roadway, with lights, barriers and a raised border. Utilities and other contractors are also required to obtain a Temporary Traffic Arrangement (TTA), agreed by TD, police and District Councillors.
A TD spokesperson says there was no record of an application for a TTA from the firm for that street in the last six months, and no application was displayed at the site, in contravention of TD’s rules.
HEC said its contractor had “displayed the relevant road signs to direct the public to use other pedestrian access to pass through this section of Johnston Road”.
The road sign in fact ordered pedestrians to “use opposite footpath”, with the nearest opposite footpath across four lanes of fast-moving traffic and two tram tracks. Most pedestrians encountering the obstacle opted instead to walk in the busy road.
54 pedestrians were killed and 2,485 injured walking in roads or crossing roads in 2019, according to TD figures, accounting for 93% of pedestrian deaths and 87% of injuries.
HEC, which made HK$10.4 billion profits in 2020, appeared immune to any serious consequences for its flouting of traffic and transport rules. TD said it would “follow up with relevant departments and HEC to convey our concerns on the case”. HyD said it had sent “an advisory email” to both HEC and the contractor.
The firm did not respond to questions on how many of its worksites skipped TTA requirements or pedestrians safety rules.
Many other firms carrying out roadworks, including Towngas and Water Services Department, are notorious for failing basic pedestrian safety rules. Following complaints against one Towngas site, a spokesperson said the firm had “taken disciplinary action” against the contractor – that action was later revealed to be an “email reminder” to follow procedure.
A similar light touch was seen at an identical Water Services Department excavation, which blocked the pavement outside Government House earlier this year forcing pedestrians into high-speed traffic.
“We have reminded our contractor to minimise public nuisances during carrying out the works,” said a WSD spokesperson at the time.