Authorities have suspended the contractor involved in a suspected gas leak that took two workers’ lives from bidding for some government projects, as the city’s leader pledged an investigation into the incident.

Addressing the two worksite fatalities, the Development Bureau said in a statement issued on Tuesday that it had suspended the contractor involved – identified in local reports as Raft (E&M) Engineering Limited – from tendering for government air-conditioning installation contracts. It will also be required to withdraw existing bids, the bureau’s statement read.

Firefighters and rescuers recover the two workers from the cooling pipe on Sunday morning. Photo: Internet.
Firefighters and rescuers recover the two workers from the cooling pipe on Sunday morning. Photo: Internet.

According to the bureau’s website, Raft was still able to submit tenders for fire service or plumbing installation public works projects.

“Taking cognisance of the outcome of the independent safety audit, the contractor is required to submit an improvement action plan and implement improvement measures, with a view to demonstrating that it has an effective safety management system before the uplifting of the suspension from tendering can be considered,” the statement read.

The bureau added that it had ordered the contractor to conduct an independent audit to review its safety management system.

The workplace incident happened in West Kowloon on Sunday, when the two workers – aged 61 and 63 – were inside a water cooling pipe connected to the air-conditioning system at Elements mall. They were killed by a suspected gas leak.

The underground site is managed by the city’s sole rail operator, the MTR Corporation (MTRC).

Occupational safety

Ahead of his meeting with the Executive Council on Tuesday morning, Chief Executive John Lee expressed his condolences and ordered an investigation “at full speed,” adding that he had asked the Social Welfare Department to offer support to the victims’ families.

John Lee speaks to reporters on September 5, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
John Lee speaks to reporters on September 5, 2023. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

He said the Labour Department had launched investigations into confined worksites citywide.

“Relevant government departments, and society at large, must make every effort to promote occupational safety,” he said, adding that it was also important to build up a “culture” of occupational safety. “No matter how many laws there are, people must abide by them.”

The police would conduct an investigation into potential criminal elements and negligence, Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan said on Monday, adding that there was “no evidence” that the contractor had complied with legal requirements.

Separately, Secretary for Labour Chris Sun told reporters on Tuesday that authorities would “definitely” take legal action by suspending works or imposing penalties if any instances of non-compliance are identified.

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

A spate of workplace incidents, some fatal, have put a spotlight on industrial safety in recent years. Labour rights groups have long said the fines faced by employers were insufficient for reflecting the severity of the offences and deterring offenders.

An occupational safety law was amended in April, under which employers face up to two years’ imprisonment and an increased maximum penalty of HK$10 million – up from HK$500,000 – for safety violations.

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James Lee is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press with an interest in culture and social issues. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he witnessed the institution’s transformation over the course of the 2019 extradition bill protests and after the passing of the Beijing-imposed security law.

Since joining HKFP in 2023, he has covered local politics, the city’s housing crisis, as well as landmark court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial. He was previously a reporter at The Standard where he interviewed pro-establishment heavyweights and extensively covered the Covid-19 pandemic and Hong Kong’s political overhauls under the national security law.