On 19 April 2023, the Legislative Council passed an amendment bill to the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance, which increases the maximum penalty for serious offenses from HK$500,000 to HK$10 million and includes a two-year jail term. It will be published in the government gazette and come into effect next Friday (Apr 28).
The passing of the amendment came a little more than a month after the Labour Department pressed charges against more than 60 individuals involved in a fatal crane collapse that left three dead and six injured at a construction site in Sau Mau Ping last September.
In the past decade, the annual number of fatal industrial accidents stood at around 20 with no sign of a downward trend. “Relatively low” penalties may be a factor, said Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun Yuk-han, while the relevant legislation had not been reviewed for more than two decades.
Michael Luk Chung-hung from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions said industrial incidents are not cold hard numbers as families are devastated by trauma that could never be made up. “The raise in fine cannot compensate anything to the decreased worker and can only be seen as one way of how justice is served”, he said.
Also, both Sun and Luk highlighted an important point that raising the fine is an important measure, but it is not simply enough to reduce the number of accidents. The measures that were suggested to go hand in hand are:
- Improving the system of assigning safety officers, since currently many safety officers have only duties but no real power at all.
- Promoting safety awareness and strengthening education, since the occupational safety protocols should be followed by everyone at the workplace.
- Applying advanced technologies to detect any possible accident and design and implement prevention measures ahead.
Ultimately, whether increasing occupational safety violation fines will improve safety control depends on how seriously employers take their responsibilities to provide a safe working environment for their employees. However, higher fines and potential imprisonment may be effective tools in promoting greater compliance with occupational safety laws and reducing the number of deadly industrial accidents.
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