Union raises concerns over compromised putlogs and regulatory oversight at Kai Tak construction accident

Lee Kwong-sing

21st February 2024 – (Hong Kong) Two individuals lost their lives, and three others sustained injuries at the construction site of Pano Harbour in Kai Tak yesterday. Lee Kwong-sing, the safety consultant of the Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union (HKCIEGU), estimated today (21st) that the collapse of the scaffolding structure may have been caused by the removal of tie rods, which are crucial for reinforcing the scaffolding. He further pointed out that there were at least ten sets of tie rods involved in the incident, with each set capable of bearing a weight of one ton. Lee expressed concerns over the negligence and convenience-driven decisions that may have contributed to this tragedy. Additionally, industry sources raised doubts about the thoroughness of the inspection conducted last week.

During an interview with a local radio station, Lee Kwong-sing explained that the collapsed scaffolding structure had fallen outward, indicating a failure of the putlogs used to support and secure the scaffolding. He elaborated that putlogs are typically installed on the walls using drilling techniques or iron wires, which are then fastened to bamboo supports that secure the scaffolding. Normally, every four meters of scaffolding requires one set of putlogs. In the case of the affected scaffolding, measuring approximately 15 meters by 8 meters, it was estimated that at least ten sets of putlogs were needed to ensure vertical and horizontal stability. Each set of putlogs can withstand a weight of one ton. Considering a weight calculation of approximately 200 to 300 pounds per square meter of scaffolding, along with the weight of the workers on top, Lee stated, “When the entire structure collapses, it is estimated that the putlogs on the exterior walls would have been severely compromised.”

Lee indicated that it is possible that the initial engineering design did not adequately accommodate the installation of glass windows, leading to the obstruction of tie rods. It is likely that someone removed or even sawed through the putlogs, resulting in a series of errors that ultimately led to the accident. He questioned whether the inspection conducted on the fifth day of the Lunar New Year adequately addressed these concerns or if the removal of the tie rods occurred after the inspection.

Fay Siu Sin-man, the chief executive of the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims, revealed that she had engaged with the families of the two deceased victims at the United Christian Hospital yesterday. The family members were emotionally distraught, with some rushing to the hospital from mainland China to bid their final farewells to their loved ones.

Siu explained that the scaffolding involved in the incident was of a suspended type, with a larger surface area compared to standard scaffolding. She quoted industry insiders who raised the possibility that the scaffolding had been tampered with, compromising its stability. These revelations raised serious concerns about inadequate safety supervision at the construction site. Siu emphasised, “All accidents should be anticipated, and a thorough assessment should consider all potential risks.”

Dennis Leung Tsz-wing, a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong representing the Labour constituency, visited the site and the injured workers in the hospital yesterday. He reported that the two workers injured on the ground suffered minor injuries to their hands and feet, requiring plaster casts and hospital stays. The worker who fell from a height remained in the intensive care unit, conscious but with injuries to the neck and both legs, rendering them temporarily immobile.

Leung stressed the need to examine the current scaffolding design and evaluate the installation of additional support structures. He also called for strengthened regulations and training for workers performing external wall work. Leung expressed hope that the Labour Department would enhance supervision and training guidelines when updating the scaffolding work guidelines.