A three-tier warning system to help protect Hong Kong workers from heatstroke will roll out next Monday, the Labour Department has announced, but a green group says it lacks legal backing.

If the Observatory’s Hong Kong Heat Index (HKHI) hits 32, it will be recommended that outdoor workers – or those in indoors with no air-conditioning – with a “very heavy workload” suspend their work.

The Deputy Commissioner for Labour (Occupational Safety and Health), Vincent Fung (right), and the General Manager of the Occupational Safety and Health Council, Catherine Wong (left).
The Deputy Commissioner for Labour (Occupational Safety and Health), Vincent Fung (right), and the General Manager of the Occupational Safety and Health Council, Catherine Wong (left). Photo: GovHK.

On Monday, the Labour Department said that it had established a system of Heat Stress at Work Warnings, coded amber, red, and black. They refer to “high”, “very high” and “extremely high” levels of heat stress.

Heatstroke levels
Heatstroke levels. Photo: Labour Department.

The range of warning levels starts at an HKHI reading of 30, with recommended rest times for each hour of work depending on whether physical workload is “light,” “moderate,” “heavy” or “very heavy.” For instance, when the HKHI hits 30, workers with a “very heavy” workload will be recommended to take 45 minutes of rest after working for 15 minutes every hour.

Red and black warnings – exceeding an HKHI of 32 – suggest that those undertaking a “very heavy” workload cease altogether.

heatstroke chart
Photo: Labour Department.

According to the guidelines, examples of “very heavy” workloads include those involved in bar-fixing and scaffolding, while workers with “heavy” workloads include concrete workers and grouters.

Hot weather heatwave waterfront street cleaner blue collar
A street cleaner. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

The warning will be issued by the Labour Department, with the Hong Kong Observatory assisting to broadcast the message. The public can receive notifications of Heat Stress at Work Warnings via the “GovHK Notifications” or “MyObservatory” mobile applications. When the warning is in force, hourly updates will be sent out automatically.

“Since working environments vary differently, I think that the first step is to have a guideline. It is an important reference for all the employers and workers… It is for the staff who are responsible for the occupational safety to carefully assess how high the risk of heatstroke in the environment is,” Deputy Commissioner for Labour Vincent Fung Hao-yin said during Monday’s press conference.

Green group Greenpeace, however, urged the government to give the recommendations legal backing.

“The guideline is not legally binding and has set many hurdles for workers to take rest and suspend work. It is difficult to protect outdoor workers,” Tom Ng, Project Director of Greenpeace said in a press release on Monday.

“Greenpeace urges the government and employers to adopt a people-oriented heatstroke prevention policy, to protect outdoor workers from the threat of heat stress, eliminating climate injustice,” the statement read.

Support HKFP  |  Code of Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report | Apps

Help safeguard press freedom & keep HKFP free for all readers by supporting our team

contribute to hkfp
2023 fund hkfp
YouTube video

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit.

contact hkfp

Mandy Cheng is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. Previously, she worked at Ming Pao, focusing on investigative and feature reporting. She also contributed to Cable TV and others.