Police: Fatal West Kowloon accident site a confined space with inadequate safety measures, one arrested so far

Gar Kam-lam

27th September 2023 – (Hong Kong) Two workers lost their lives due to suspected hydrogen sulfide poisoning in an underground pipeline at 1 Austin Road West in West Kowloon. The victims, identified as Lau Ho-cheung, 63, and Kwok Fo-kei, 61, were discovered unconscious inside the pipeline a day after the incident. Following the discovery, a 62-year-old man named Shum, the project manager, was arrested on suspicion of violating the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance. He had gone missing after reporting the incident on the day it occurred but was apprehended in Tsim Sha Tsui in the early hours of the following day. The Hong Kong government has expressed concern over the incident and has taken action by arresting the 62-year-old supervisor surnamed Shum in accordance with relevant occupational safety and health regulations. There is a possibility of further arrests on additional charges, including manslaughter, at a later stage.

Gar Kam-lam, Assistant District Commander (Crime) of the Yau Tsim Police District, provided details of the case, stating that they received a report around 7.20am on Sunday, 24th September, regarding two men found unconscious in the pipeline. Both victims were pronounced dead at the scene, with Liu and Kwok being their respective surnames.

The Yau Tsim Police District Serious Crime Unit took over the investigation and interviewed various individuals involved, including the contractor and the project manager. The investigation revealed that the pipeline project involved the replacement of seawater pipes. The workers were in the first phase of the project, which involved draining water. On 23rd September, they arrived at the site, marking their third day at the location. The project manager accompanied the two victims to the pipeline at around 10am, and he left approximately half an hour later. In the afternoon, around 4 p.m., the contractor also visited the entrance of the pipeline to check on the progress but did not discover the two deceased workers.

It wasn’t until the following morning that the project manager received a call from the victims’ relatives, prompting him to search the pipeline where he found the two workers unconscious. He immediately reported the incident to the police. After reporting the incident, the project manager went missing. The police arrested the 62-year-old Shum, the project manager, in the Tsim Sha Tsui area around midnight. He was charged with “failing to ensure the safety and health of employees” and is suspected of violating Section 6 of the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance, which carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$10 million. The police mentioned the possibility of pursuing manslaughter charges if there is evidence to support it, stating their intention to provide a fair investigation for the deceased.

The police confirmed that the site of the incident was classified as a confined space, and many safety measures and procedures were not implemented. They emphasized that those responsible would be investigated and held accountable.

The pipeline can be divided into three sections. The first section is where the victims were working, approximately 10 meters from the entrance. Then, there is a slope and stairs, followed by the second section about 4-5 meters away. Finally, the third section is reached after a distance of approximately 80 to 100 meters, with more slopes and stairs to navigate. When rescuers arrived at the pipeline, they found it filled with several inches of water and hazardous gases, including methane.

The bodies of the two victims were found in the same location, and their belongings are believed to still be inside the pipeline. Efforts will be made by the investigative team to recover these items.

On 27th September, more than ten family members of the deceased workers arrived at the site at around 11am to meet with representatives from the MTR Corporation.

Lau Ho-cheung and Kwok Fo-kei, aged 63 and 61, respectively, entered the underground pipeline at 1 Austin Road West on Saturday, 23rd September, at around 10am to carry out maintenance work on the cooling system for Elements. The project manager from the construction company visited the pipeline at approximately 4pm and inspected the progress but did not find the two workers. He contacted Shum, the person in charge with the surname Shum, who assured him that he would locate the workers. The project manager left the site afterwards. Later, at around 5pm, the project manager called another male staff member to check on the situation, but the staff member found the entrance to the pipeline locked and left.

The families of the victims grew concerned when the workers did not return overnight and contacted the company for information. It wasn’t until the next day that other workers discovered the two unconscious individuals inside the pipeline, leading to the tragic revelation of the incident.