LCQ21: Enhancing fire safety of old industrial buildings


Hong Kong (HKSAR) -      Following is a question by the Hon Wilson Or and a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr John Lee, in the Legislative Council today (December 6):

Question:

     In April last year, a fire broke out in a 48-year-old industrial building on King Fuk Street, San Po Kong and about 80 people were evacuated. Last month, a No. 3 alarm fire broke out in a 51-year-old industrial building located on the same street, and about 700 people in a nearby school underwent emergency evacuation due to the thick smoke. On the other hand, under the existing legislation, only some of the industrial buildings built before 1987 (old industrial buildings) are required to be provided with automatic sprinkler systems.

In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the current number of old industrial buildings not provided with automatic sprinkler systems across the territory (with a breakdown by District Council (DC) district);

(2) of the respective numbers of regular and surprise inspections conducted in the past five years by the relevant government departments on old industrial buildings in respect of matters such as fire safety measures, types of items stored, partitioning of units (including those units used for operating mini-storages) and whether there are unauthorised building works, as well as the number of non-compliant cases uncovered (with a breakdown by government department and DC district); the respective numbers of related prosecutions and convictions, and the maximum punishment imposed on the convicted persons; whether it will consider raising the relevant penalty to increase the deterrent effect;

(3) as the Government plans to introduce to this Council in early next year a bill that aims to enhance the fire safety of old industrial buildings, whether the bill will include provisions to provide for the following: (i) types of items allowed to be stored, (ii) layout of mini-storages, (iii) alternative installations and equipment (e.g. dry sprinkler systems, fixed fire-fighting installations, fixed fire pumps and portable fire-fighting equipment) to be adopted when installation of automatic sprinkler systems has been found infeasible, and (iv) the requirement for owners or the occupiers of an industrial building to regularly conduct fire risk assessments for the building (such assessments must be conducted by registered fire engineers under specified circumstances), so as to facilitate the authorities to issue fire safety certificates after ensuring that the building has complied with the relevant requirements; and

(4) whether it has reviewed if it is necessary to increase, upon the passage of the aforesaid bill by this Council, the manpower of the Fire Services Department and the Buildings Department so as to cope with the additional law enforcement work; if it has reviewed and the outcome is in the affirmative, of the additional manpower required?

Reply:

President,

     As with buildings of all types, the planning, design and construction of an industrial building is required to comply with the prevailing Buildings Ordinance (Cap 123, BO) as well as the relevant regulations and codes of practice, including the requirements on the provision of means of escape, fire resisting construction, and means of access for firefighting and rescue. Industrial buildings should also provide fire service installations and equipment (FSI) according to the prevailing Code of Practice for Minimum Fire Service Installations and Equipment.

In short, all industrial buildings meet the fire safety standards prevailing at the time of their construction. However, with the passage of time, older industrial buildings may not meet the modern-day standards. 

     A few fires at industrial buildings in recent years heightened concern over the fire risks of old industrial buildings, in particular those without automatic sprinkler systems. To upgrade the fire safety standards of pre-1987 industrial buildings, the Government proposes to introduce a new piece of legislation to mandate owners and occupiers of pre-1987 industrial buildings to upgrade the requirements of FSI and fire safety construction. The Government consulted the Panel on Security of the Legislative Council (LegCo) on the legislative proposal in April this year. The details of the legislative proposal are being finalised, and a bill will be introduced into the LegCo for scrutiny after consultation with the trade.

     Having consulted the relevant policy bureaux and departments, my reply to the different parts of the question raised by Hon Or is as follows:

(1) According to the records of the Fire Services Department (FSD), about 1 100 industrial buildings in Hong Kong are not fully equipped with automatic sprinkler systems.

The FSD does not keep a breakdown of the figure by District Council (DC) district. Nonetheless, these buildings are mainly located in Kwun Tong, Sham Shui Po, Wong Tai Sin, Kwai Tsing and Tsuen Wan, etc. 

(2) During inspection of industrial buildings, if the FSD identifies any breaches of the Fire Services Ordinance (Cap 95, FSO) or the Dangerous Goods Ordinance (Cap 295, DGO), such as over-storage of dangerous goods or obstruction to the means of escape, are identified during inspection of industrial buildings, FSD will issue a Fire Hazard Abatement Notice (FHAN) to or instigate prosecution against the persons concerned.

     From 2014 to October 31, 2017, the FSD conducted about 40 000 inspections to industrial buildings, and issued 11 788 FHANs. During the same period, the FSD instigated 401 prosecutions against irregularities identified in industrial buildings, resulting in 373 convictions.

Amongst the convicted cases, the highest fine for contravening the FSO was $60,000, while that for breaching the DGO was $25,000. The FSD does not keep a breakdown of the above figures by DC district.

     On the other hand, if the Buildings Department (BD) identifies irregularities in industrial buildings during inspections, such as unauthorised building works (UBWs), enforcement actions will be taken correspondingly in accordance with the BO and existing enforcement policies, including the issuance of removal orders, to the owners. In case of non-compliance with the removal orders, the BD will instigate prosecution against the owners concerned.

     From 2013 to October 31, 2017, the BD attended to or conducted inspections in response to 18 779 reports received regarding irregularities concerning UBWs in industrial buildings and issued 428 removal orders. A breakdown by DC district is at Table 1.

During the same period, the BD instigated 74 prosecutions against such irregularities. A total of 63 cases were convicted. The highest fine was $202,600.  

     The FSD and the BD consider that the prevailing law has deterrent effect on the offenders.

They will review the penalties under the relevant legislation from time to time. Moreover, in view of the risks of illegal use of the premises in industrial buildings for domestic purposes, the Government consulted the LegCo Panel on Development in June and July 2017 on the proposed amendments to the BO for stepping up enforcement actions against such practices. The Government is considering the views of the Members so as to decide on the way forward on the proposed legislative amendments. 

     As regards inspections to and enforcement actions against mini-storages, the FSD, the BD and the Labour Department (LD) have inspected around 900 mini-storages from mid-2016 to October 31, 2017.

The FSD has issued 7 118 FHANs to the persons-in-charge of 798 mini-storages with irregularities identified. BD has also issued 1 704 statutory orders to the owners of 803 mini-storages with non-compliance found (the breakdown by DC district is at Table 2). The FSD has instigated prosecutions against five mini-storages with breaches identified, of which one case was convicted and the person-in-charge was fined $14,000.

     The LD has issued 241 written warnings and 13 improvement notices to the duty holders of mini-storages in respect of occupational safety of employees, mainly concerning inadequate fire safety measures and insufficient first aid facilities.

In addition, the LD took out 13 prosecutions, all of which have been convicted by courts with the highest fine being $18,000.

     The Lands Department (LandsD) has also conducted a comprehensive review of the relevant lease conditions of all mini-storages and similar premises in Hong Kong. As at October 31, 2017, LandsD has checked the land leases of the lots where around 900 mini-storages are situated. 219 of these mini-storages located in industrial building units have been confirmed to have breached the relevant lease conditions.

LandsD has issued warning letters to the owners of these units, requiring them to rectify the breaches of uses, and 35 have completed rectification. For the remaining 184 cases, as the owners concerned failed to purge the breaches by the deadline, LandsD has sent the warning letters to the Land Registry for registration.

(3) The Government's legislative proposal of improving the fire safety of old industrial buildings aims to empower the Director of Fire Services and the Director of Buildings to issue fire safety directions to require owners and/or occupiers of pre-1987 industrial buildings to upgrade the fire safety measures of their buildings. The improvement works required would include the installation of automatic sprinkler system, emergency lighting, fire hydrant/hose reel system, fire alarm system, etc ., the provision of adequate means of escape, means of access to facilitate access for firefighting and rescue, as well as fire resisting construction, to name a few.

On the premise that basic fire safety is not compromised, the FSD and the BD may consider accepting alternative proposals if there are genuine difficulties for a certain building to install a certain FSI or carry out works related to fire safety construction.

     As mentioned above, to address the fire safety issues of mini-storages, departments such as the FSD, the BD and the LD have taken enforcement actions according to the extant legislation. The FSD and the BD have also uploaded information on the potential fire hazards of mini-storages and the related abatement measures onto their departmental websites, including the requirements for the layout of mini-storage cubicles, to facilitate understanding by the mini-storage trade and the public.

(4) Upon the passage and the implementation of the bill on improving the fire safety of old industrial buildings, the enforcement work of the BD and the FSD will increase. The departments will seek resources under the established mechanism having regard to the actual needs.



Published on: 2017-12-06

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