Law and Enforcement

ENVIRONMENT OFFICIALS LIE ABOUT HENDERSON CONSTRUCTION SITE FALLING DEBRIS CLEAN-UP

Small flats at Henderson Land’s “Holborn” development have already sold for up to $14 million – but the building site presents a different image from the glossy sales brochure

Officials have lied about the clean-up of fallen debris from a building site in Sai Wan Ho with the area still littered with scaffolding dregs despite assurances from the government the issue had been resolved.

On Tuesday the community around Henderson Land’s luxury “Holborn” development in Sai Wan Ho saw thousands of bamboo ties and other debris flung from the middle of a 29-storey tower as workers dismantled scaffolding.

Nylon bunches, weighing around 20-30 grammes each, were raining into the road and directly onto cars, pedestrians and people on bicycles.

Local police called to the scene said there was no danger from the falling ties and that Henderson’s development vehicle, Central Profit Investments, had promised to clean up the construction debris. Police took no further action.

On Wednesday, following complaints from the public, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) said it had inspected the area, claiming “the nylon strips were all cleared”. EPD also said it would take no further action.

“As incidents of falling objects and safety of construction site [sic] should be handled by the Police and Labour Department,” said Assistant Environment Officer Chancy Chan Ho Yin in an email.

Bamboo ties still litter the district despite Environmental Protection Department promises they had all be cleared up

But on Thursday, a visit to the site found hundreds of the black strips still littering the whole area, with bunches of the nylon bamboo ties found everywhere from tram tracks to nearby public gardens.

EPD did not answer questions on why it had claimed the debris had been cleared when the developer had clearly carried out only a cursory cleaning.

The law on throwing objects from height is vague, with prosecution only possible when falling objects present “a danger or injury” to people below. And while the government has previously claimed paper flung from a bridge or, for example, the LegCo gallery, has presented a danger to people underneath, authorities tend to tolerate developers flinging lightweight objects from height during project construction.

But in Housing Authority estates, tenants who throw or drop even lightweight objects from height are penalised: a tenant will be punished with 7 “penalty points” for dropping lightweight objects such as tissues or underwear, against 15 points (and potential legal action) for throwing objects which may cause injury to those below. Tenants with 16 penalty points will be evicted.

Construction site safety breaches

While completed flats at the Henderson Land site are aiming at the luxury-end of the market, selling for between $7 million for a 225 sq ft unit and 14 million for a 465 sq ft unit, the construction site is far from “high end”. A Transit Jam inspection of the site found numerous breaches of worker safety law and guidelines, including: no safety contacts or company information listed at the site; people entering the site without Construction Industry Council cards or other ID checking; workers on site without personal protective equipment (PPE); workers smoking near to flammable liquid stores; workers at height without safety lines; arc welding without screens; debris, bricks and scrap nail-ridden wood piled haphazardly around the site; chemicals not stored in drip trays and deep pits unprotected.

Furthermore the site itself not secured against members of the public walking in deliberately or by accident. There is no secure pedestrian path around the site or banksmen to protect pedestrians forced to walk in the road; and an illegally placed skip with broken lights blocked Shau Kei Wan Road opposite the police’s Hong Kong Island Traffic headquarters.

Neither Henderson Land nor Central Profit Investments responded to questions on the falling debris or site safety.

Labour Department and Buildings Department have also refused to comment.

Development Bureau, which has recently taken up a more active role in construction safety, said it could not comment at the moment, given the launch yesterday of an Ombudsman investigation into the safety regulation.

According to the Ombudsman, the construction industry recorded five times the fatality rate of other industries.

“One life lost to an industrial accident is too many,” said Ombudsman Winnie Chiu Wai-yin, announcing the new investigation yesterday.

Earlier this month, at a keynote speech kicking off Construction Safety Week, Development Secretary Bernadette Linn had admitted improving construction safety had hit something of a “bottleneck” and incidents had “even shown an upward trend”.

On the sidelines of that event, Linn told Transit Jam safety should be tackled “not by reducing the volume but by improving our systems in coping with the volume and in reducing the risks to which our construction workers are exposed.”

Linn pointed to innovation and technology as the way to reduce risk. “So we have to look at it in a positive spirit instead of trying to reduce the volume of our works,” she said.

Technology on display at Construction Safety Week included exo-skeletons enabling workers to work for longer with less muscle strain, site locks that can only be opened with Construction Industry Council ID cards and “thermal camera”-style imaging systems which can detect if workers are wearing the correct PPE and sound an alarm if any PPE is missing.

But while technology may play a part, many have criticized the government’s soft-touch approach to construction safety and enforcement, something the Ombudsman investigation has pledged to tackle.

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