HK Labour Department’s Amber Heat Stress at Work Warning cancelled and reissued in short time span, union criticises chaos and calls for increased monitoring points

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2nd June 2023 – (Hong Kong) The Hong Kong Labour Department issued an Amber Heat Stress at Work Warning three times on June 2, with the first warning being cancelled only 10 minutes before the second warning was issued. The third warning was issued 20 minutes after the second warning was cancelled, and it was in effect for only one hour. The Hong Kong scaffolding union criticised the warnings, stating that they were issued and cancelled based on the heat index, making it difficult for workers to keep up. The union also called for an increase in monitoring points for the heat index, as there are currently only two monitoring points that are not reflective of actual heat conditions in many areas.

The Amber Heat Stress at Work Warning is linked to the heat index, and according to the Prevention of Heat Stroke Guidelines published by the Labour Department, the warning is issued when the heat index reaches 30 to 32.

The chairman of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Scaffold and Workers’ Union, Ho Ping-tak, stated that the work heat stress warning cannot be predicted in advance and is issued and cancelled based on the heat index at the time. He pointed out that the repeated issuance and cancellation of the warning made it difficult for workers to follow, and many workers did not understand why the warning was only issued when the temperature reached 37 degrees Celsius all day.

Ho also noted that there are currently only two monitoring points for the heat index in Hong Kong, one in Sheung Yue River and the other in King’s Park. He believes that relying on the average heat index of the two monitoring points cannot reflect the heat conditions in some areas, such as low-lying and mountainous areas. He suggested that the authorities consider increasing the number of monitoring points and keeping them closer to the ground.

Ho also mentioned that he has received feedback from workers that some construction sites have not fully implemented the Labour Department’s guidelines for preventing heat stroke. Although the guidelines are in place, they are not legally binding. Even if workers and contractors try to follow them, they may not be able to take breaks due to the tight construction schedule.

Ho urged the government to consider legislation to require employers to arrange breaks for workers when the warning is issued, as heat stroke can be fatal and cause harm to workers and their families. He also called for the adjustment of the construction schedule to avoid workers being forced to work continuously without rest breaks.