LCQ1: Guarding against sudden deaths of employees due to overexertion at work

Hong Kong (HKSAR) -      Following is a question by the Hon Chan Kin-por and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Dr Law Chi-kwong, in the Legislative Council today (February 28):


     The 2016 Population By-census Main Results, published by the Census and Statistics Department in November last year, has revealed that, among the 3.43 million employees (excluding foreign domestic helpers) across the territory, 382 000 (i.e. 11.1 per cent) worked 60 hours or more a week, and around 32 000 (i.e. 0.9 per cent) even worked 75 hours or more a week.

Some working persons have indicated that excessively long hours of work leads to work-life imbalance of employees and easily triggers various kinds of occupational diseases, and there were even cases of sudden deaths of employees suspected to be caused by overexertion at work (commonly known as "deaths from overexertion"). On the other hand, it has been reported that quite a number of Asian countries and regions (such as Japan and Taiwan) have drawn up a definition for "death from overexertion" or "overexertion". In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it knows the number of suspected cases of "deaths from overexertion" in the past five years;

(2) whether it will examine the drawing up of a definition for "death from overexertion"; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(3) given that the Chief Executive in Council agreed, at its meeting on June 13 last year, to adopt suitable supportive measures to take forward the recommendations made by the Standard Working Hours Committee in its report, of the latest progress of such work; and

(4) whether it will examine the establishment of a dedicated fund to provide subsidies for enterprises to implement measures aiming at achieving work-life balance, such as granting employees additional paid leave, creating a family-friendly working environment and establishing diversified communication channels between employers and employees; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that? 



     My reply to the question raised by the Member is as follows: 

(1) and (2) According to the information available to the Labour Department (LD), the International Labour Organization has not drawn up any definitions or guidelines on "sudden deaths caused by overexertion at work", nor are there internationally recognised criteria in this regard. Most countries or places do not have such definitions made in the context of employees' compensation. There is no definition on "sudden deaths caused by overexertion at work" in Hong Kong. We therefore have no statistics on such cases.

     The existing Employees' Compensation Ordinance (Cap 282) stipulates that if an employee sustains an injury or dies as a result of an accident arising out of and in the course of the employment, including sudden death which happens in the course of the employment and is caused by accident arising from work, the employer is liable to pay compensation in accordance with the Ordinance. 

     The causes of sudden death other than by work accident in the course of the employment are complex, and may involve a multitude of factors including personal health condition, heredity, eating or living habits, work nature and environment, etc. It is a very difficult and complicated issue to determine whether workload or work pressure has contributed to the sudden death of an employee in the course of the employment.

     The Government has engaged the Occupational Safety and Health Council to conduct a consultancy study on the relationship between such cases and work conditions. The study commenced in the first quarter of 2018. Depending on the outcome of the study, the Government will consider the next steps including whether to define "sudden deaths caused by overexertion at work".

(3) The last-term Chief Executive in Council endorsed the report of the Standard Working Hours Committee and its recommendations on June 13, 2017 as a general framework for guiding the future formulation of the working hours policy, and agreed to adopt suitable supportive measures to take forward the recommendations.

We understand that the community has divergent views on the legislative proposals put forward by the last-term Government on the subject of working hours. We will continue to listen to the views of the community so as to identify feasible options of enhancing the working hours policy.

     Meanwhile, LD has commenced the work of formulating 11 sector-specific working hours guidelines through its industry-based tripartite committees to provide suggested working hours arrangements, overtime compensation methods and good working hours management measures, for employers' reference and adoption so as to improve the working hours arrangements of employees.

(4) The Government has been actively encouraging employers to adopt employee-oriented good people management measures and to implement family-friendly employment practices (FFEPs) with a view to helping employees balance their work and family life. Considering that FFEPs have an extensive coverage, different enterprises have their unique business requirements and mode of operations, and family needs of their employees may also vary, it is more appropriate for enterprises to decide what FFEPs are to be adopted, having regard to the specific circumstances of their enterprises and employees' preferences. These may include, for instance, putting in place flexible work arrangements, and providing family leave benefits and living support in fulfilling employees' responsibilities and needs at their different stages of life that would best serve the interests of the enterprise and its employees. Therefore, the Government currently has no plan to establish the concerned dedicated fund.

Published on: 2018-02-28

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