Hong Kong’s public hospital operator has ordered a contractor to conduct a full investigation after it was revealed that the coating used in cable trunking at a hospital redevelopment project did not meet the contract’s specification standards. It marks the latest controversy amid a string of safety incidents at local medical facilities.

Kwong Wah Hospital
Kwong Wah Hospital. Photo: GovHK.

In a statement issued Thursday evening, the Hospital Authority said an independent expert had conducted tests at Kwong Wah Hospital, and confirmed that the thickness of the cable trunking coating material was below the standard 20 micrometres, and that it weighed less than the standard 275 grams per square metre.

“The independent expert confirmed that the thickness and weight of the cable trunking coating are substandard and do not meet the standards stipulated in the project contract,” said Andrew Wong, the authority’s Chief Manager of Capital Planning.

The authority has now instructed the contractor to conduct a detailed investigation including the reasons for the violation, and to reinstall the trunking while bearing the additional costs.

That came after the city’s health minister Lo Chung-mau said this month that the authorities would conduct a probe into the substandard coatings.

Cable trunking at the Kwong Wah Hospital redevelopment project. Photo: GovHK.
Cable trunking at the Kwong Wah Hospital redevelopment project. Photo: GovHK.

The statement did not mention how far below standard the cable trunkings were. Local media outlet HK01 earlier this month conducted 150 tests and found that the zinc coatings on the trunking ranged from 0 to 5.8 micrometres.

‘No safety risks’

Wong also said the apparent mishap did “not pose additional safety risks to the safety of patients and staff nor impact on the building’s structure, fire safety and hospital operations” as the coating for the metal routing installations are used to prevent rusting.

He also said cable trunking was mainly installed in sealed maintenance ducts or roof ceilings that cannot be accessed by patients or the public.

The Architectural Services Department also released a statement on the incident, also saying that insufficient coating thickness poses “no risk of electrical leakage.”

hospital authority logo (3)
The Hospital Authority logo. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

On Friday morning, electrical engineer Ho Wing-ip told Commercial Radio that the coating issue would not pose immediate risks, but fully replacing the trunking would be challenging. He recommended painting over the existing trunking.

The department will be following up on 148 ongoing contracts involving cable trunking, a spokesman for the department said, with the first batch of tests involving 38 contracts expected to be completed in three to four weeks.

“If any non-compliance … is found after testing, we will require the contractor of the relevant works contract to give explanations and make appropriate arrangements in accordance with contract terms,” the statement read.

According to the statement, the department will impose specific requirements for documentary proof on cable trunking coating, including the manufacturer’s certificate of accreditation. Up until the department’s announcement on Thursday, specifications for cable trunking coating were not required, as they were not considered to be a “major building component.”

Both the department and the Hospital Authority said any suspected criminal elements revealed in investigations will be referred to law enforcement authorities.

String of incidents

In mid-February, a surgical light attached to the ceiling came loose in an operating theatre at United Christian Hospital, injuring a staff member. Investigation showed that screws in the “main post of the concerned surgical light” were “all broken,” the Hospital Authority said.

In March, the Hospital Authority apologised after slabs of concrete fell from the ceiling of a consultation room in Kwai Chung Hospital.

kwai chung hospital concrete
Photos showing the fallen concrete at a consultation room in Kwai Chung Hospital. Photo: Internet.

Days earlier, authorities said a ceiling hoist used to lift patients in a rehabilitation ward at Tuen Mun Hospital had fallen. There were no injuries.

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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.