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Wednesday, Mar 22, 2023

Ex-fire chief says Hong Kong construction sites need customised safety measures

Ex-fire chief says Hong Kong construction sites need customised safety measures

Anthony Lam, an ex-director of the Fire Services Department, says expert risk assessments should be carried out at every construction project.

Fire risk assessments should be carried out at every Hong Kong construction site to make sure safety measures are tailor-made, a former head of the Fire Services Department has said.

Anthony Lam Chun-man, a fire safety specialist and an ex-director of the department, said that risk assessments should be carried out by experts to ensure the most appropriate safety equipment was installed, even though general government guidelines were in place.

“How do you know if the fire risk of different construction sites is the same?” Lam asked. “Some risks faced by one site might not exist in another site. An expert must do an assessment before introducing risk mitigation measures.”

The under-construction hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui catches fire earlier this week.

Lam was speaking after a lack of proper equipment was partly blamed for a major blaze at an under-construction hotel on Thursday night.

“We need to target the particular risks, which could be different in various places, environment and time,” he explained.

Lam said fireproof paint applied to construction materials at a site where bamboo scaffolding was used was a good safety measure.

He added that building materials that would only be used in the later stages of construction should not be transported to the site too early.

The No 4 alarm fire broke out on Middle Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, a major shopping district and tourist hotspot, late on Thursday and burned until about 8.30am on Friday.

The area was blanketed with red-hot embers and falling debris, which forced the evacuation of people from nearby buildings as firefighters battled to bring the blaze under control.

Smoke was again seen to come from the site on Saturday morning, but the threat was quickly tackled by firefighters, a department spokesman said.

The Buildings Department confirmed after an inspection that there was no obvious danger from the 48-storey hotel project.

But some scaffolding and suspending work platforms showed signs of instability and urgent work was under way to remove unsafe pieces of construction equipment.

The department said that the work platforms had already been taken away.

The Fire Services Department on Friday said that only temporary fire safety equipment was available at the site, which made it more difficult for firefighters to tackle the blaze.

The voluntary guidelines recommend minimum fire installations and equipment at building construction sites.

These include fixed fire pumps to take water up to floors 30 metres (98 feet) or more above ground level.

The guidelines stipulate the pumps should be close to staircases and connected to the mains electricity supply and a plan showing their locations should be displayed at the entrance to the site.

It is still not known whether the Tsim Sha Tsui site followed the guidelines.

The authorities and site developer the Empire Group said only that investigations into the fire continued.

Eddie Lam Kin-wing, the president of the Hong Kong Construction Association, which endorsed the guidelines, said it was not clear how usual it was for contractors to follow fire safety recommendations.

“It should be quite feasible to carry out those measures if they are listed in a guideline,” he said.

But he added that some sites might not be able to follow the recommendations because of on-site space restrictions.

The CR Construction Company, the main contractor for the project, was asked what fire safety equipment was available at the site and whether they were in line with the voluntary guidelines.

The company replied the cause of the incident was still under investigation and it was working with government departments.

A special task force was also formed by the Fire Services Department to look into the cause of the fire and improve fire safety precautions at construction sites.

The site, once the historic Mariners’ Club, is to be a 500-room Kimpton Hong Kong hotel and was expected to open next year. A new Mariners’ Club will be located in the building for 50 years.

Hong Kong uses a five-stage alarm system to rate fire severity, with five the most serious rating.


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