A Hong Kong contractor has been remanded in custody pending trial for alleged manslaughter after two workers were suspected to have died from a gas leak at an underground construction site. One more man has also been arrested in connection with the case.

Shum Yuk-kuen was denied bail at Kowloon City Magistrates’ Courts on Friday morning after he was charged with one count of manslaughter over a fatal industrial accident in West Kowloon.

Kowloon City Magistrates' Courts
Kowloon City Magistrates’ Courts. Photo: GovHK.

According to the charge sheet, the 62-year-old stands accused of unlawfully killing workers Lau Ho-cheong and Kwok For-kee at a Gammon Construction site in Elements mall between September 23 and 24, where the pair was found unconscious inside a water cooling pipe connected to the air-conditioning system.

They were later pronounced dead at Queen Elizabeth Hospital and were suspected of having inhaled toxic gas from the site managed by the city’s sole rail operator, the MTR Corporation.

The offence under the Offences Against the Person Ordinance is punishable by up to life imprisonment.

Shum was originally arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of breaching the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance by failing to ensure the safety and health of his workers. But the police reclassified the case as manslaughter on Thursday and pressed charges against the contractor.

The case was adjourned to December 27 for mention.

Construction worker
Construction worker. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Police said they received a report from the defendant at around 7 am on Sunday to say that that two men, aged 61 and 63, had collapsed at a construction site on 1 Austin Road where they were working. The two workers – who were unconscious – were rescued by firemen and sent to Queen Elizabeth Hospital for treatment. They were certified dead at 8.47 am and 8.52 am on the same day, respectively.

New arrest

Police made another arrest in connection with the case on Thursday, when a 40-year-old man was apprehended in Sha Tin for alleged manslaughter. Sources told local media that the arrestee was the project manager, who has been detained pending investigation.

Chris Sun
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun. File photo: GovHK.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun said on Wednesday that although current laws allowed contractors in the construction industry to outsource work to other entities, they remained legally liable for ensuring the workplace was safe.

Lead contractors would not be able to “outsource their responsibility,” the official said.

In April, Hong Kong amended the Occupational Safety and Occupational Health Legislation Ordinance, including raising the maximum penalty for employers who commit serious occupation safety violations from HK$500,000 to HK$10 million. They could also face up to two years of imprisonment.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.