Hong Kong’s government watchdog will investigate authorities’ regulation of occupational health and safety in the construction industry. The announcement came after three people were killed when a crane collapsed on a building site earlier this month.

The Office of the Ombudsman
The Office of the Ombudsman. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

The Office of the Ombudsman will probe three government departments – the Labour Department, the Buildings Department and the Development Bureau – to evaluate whether they have suitably enforced laws intended to protect worker safety, according to a press release published on Thursday.

“Fatal industrial accidents in construction works projects have occurred frequently in recent years, which is worrying. One life lost to an industrial accident is too many,” Winnie Chiu, the Ombudsman, said.

The watchdog quoted data from the Labour Department, which showed that there were 23 fatalities in the construction industry last year – the highest in five years.

Construction site worker blue collar infrastructure
A construction site. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

According to the ombudsman’s office, all three government departments being investigated play a role in ensuring the safety of construction workers. The Labour Department inspects construction sites, the Buildings Department takes action against contractors convicted of occupational safety offences, and the Development Bureau assesses contractors’ past safety performance and accident rate when reviewing bids for projects.

13 construction worker deaths in 2022

Since January, there have been 10 fatal accidents on construction sites involving a total of 13 deaths, the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions said in a press conference that followed a crane collapse in Sau Mau Ping earlier this month that killed three.

The construction site, on Anderson Road, was for a Hong Kong Housing Society project.

In July, a worker fell to his death from the 10th floor of a building, and the month before, two died after a gondola platform they were working on plunged 20 storeys. Both accidents happened in Mid-Levels.

falling crane anderson road sau mau ping
The collapse of a construction crane in Sau Mau Ping on Sept. 7, 2022. Photo: Screenshot, via RTHK.

Concern groups have long urged harsher penalties for construction companies that fail to provide a safe environment for workers.

The maximum penalty for contractors and employers who breach work safety-related ordinances is a fine of HK$500,000 and imprisonment of six months.

But the fines meted out typically fall far short of that. In June, a construction company was fined HK$30,000 over a fatal accident in Kwai Chung two years ago.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.