Sun Hung Kai Properties’ use of ‘smart helmets’ for construction workers cuts down accidents at its site

Lam Ka-sing
·4-min read

Developers should make the use of protective gear mandatory and improve supervision of safety measures to minimise accidents as mishaps at Hong Kong’s smaller construction sites remain worryingly high, said industry observers.

Sun Hung Kai Properties, the city’s largest developer by market cap, meanwhile has placed the most notable bet on new technology to take the lead and optimise the safety of its construction sites.

“In recent few years, the number of deaths … has remained at around 20,” said Fay Siu Sin-man, chief executive at Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims, a non-governmental organisation that provides support for victims of industrial accidents.

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“This is not satisfactory. I think there is still room for improvement, [such as] in terms of penalty. Some [workers] are still using simple ladders or not wearing safety belts while making scaffolding. This is still quite common.”

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She added that unless safety equipment is used widely and awareness is raised among the workers and companies, accidents will continue to happen.

The Labour Department reported 2,947 accidents related to the construction industry in 2019, down 16.8 per cent from the 3,541 in 2018 and the lowest since 2010. The number of deaths rose to 16 last year, up from 14 in 2018.

Chan Ka-ming, project manager at Yee Fai Construction Company, the construction arm of Sun Hung Kai Properties, and Anna Yip, chief executive at SmarTone, cooperated to put the SmartWorks system into use. Photo: Handout
Chan Ka-ming, project manager at Yee Fai Construction Company, the construction arm of Sun Hung Kai Properties, and Anna Yip, chief executive at SmarTone, cooperated to put the SmartWorks system into use. Photo: Handout

“There is a discrepancy with the [accident] numbers” compared to the real situation, said Daphne Ho, organising secretary at the Hong Kong Construction Site Workers General Union.

Many minor accidents and even some serious ones are not reported to the Labour Department as many employers persuade the workers into not reporting the work accidents, and avoid lawsuits by settling the matter privately, Ho said.

“[Workers] may receive a very small [compensation] and in some cases do not even get any money,” she said.

Small construction sites with tighter budgets tend to have comparatively poor safety standards than big sites of major developers like Sun Hung Kai Properties, said Ho.

Chan Ka-ming, project manager at Yee Fai Construction Company, the construction arm of SHKP, said that he had noticed a marked improvement in overall safety in the industry. The use of technology has helped to make their constructions sites even safer by bringing down the accident rate to below the industry average, according to the developer.

For instance, SmarTone, the telecom arm of SHKP, has designed a new system called SmartWorks aimed at enhancing construction workers’ safety, health and operational efficiency.

The system will first focus on serving SHKP’s construction sites, said Anna Yip, chief executive at SmarTone. The company has around 180 construction sites in Hong Kong – the most in the city.

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It includes facial recognition for access control and “smart helmets” that can trigger an alert if workers wear them improperly, track their locations and vital signs. They can also call for help using the built-in SOS button in case of mishaps.

In January, Sun Hung Kai Properties deployed the technology for the first time at its commercial development in Kwun Tong. About 250 smart helmets are in use now and at the end, the site will have some 1,000 workers all using the helmets, said Chan.

There has been no accident at the site since the system came into use, Chan added.

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