Hong Kong’s new ‘warning system’ will protect workers from heat

Companies, however, aren't too thrilled with the announcement

Hong Kong’s new ‘warning system’ will protect workers from heat

Next week, the Hong Kong government will roll out a three-tier warning system for heat stress to boost protection for workers amid the hot weather.

Starting May 15, the Labour Department will introduce three levels of the Heat Stress at Work Warning which will include the:

  • Amber Heat Stress at Work Warning, indicating high heat stress in certain working environments. This is raised when the heat index is between 30 and 31.
  • Red Heat Stress at Work Warning, indicating very high heat stress in certain working environments. This is raised when the heat index is between 32 and 33.
  • Black Heat Stress at Work Warning, indicating extremely high heat stress in certain working environments. This is raised when the heat index reaches 34 or higher.

These warnings aim to advise employers on when employees should rest depending on their job nature.

"Employers have to make appropriate arrangements for rest periods based on the level of physical exertion in work in the hour following the announcement of the Heat Stress at Work Warning and the hourly updates announcing the continued effectiveness of the warning," the Labour Department said in its guidelines.

The warnings will be issued through the GovHK Notifications or MyObservatory mobile applications, according to the Labour Department. The public can also receive warning information from government press releases, the Hong Kong Observatory's webpage, and the mass media.

According to the department, employers are not allowed to withhold wages, attendance awards, or allowances for employees who have extra rest time given under the Heat Stress at Work Warning.

Guidance for employers

The three-tier system is part of the Labour Department's Guidance Notes on Prevention of Heat Stroke at Work, which is also set for a May 15 release.

The guide outlines the risk factors to be considered when carrying out heat stress risk assessments, as well as the recommended control measures for addressing the risk factors.

"Since the nature and requirements of different industries and job positions vary, employers and employees should make reference to the guidance notes in advance and adopt a risk-based and consultative approach to devise reasonable and mutually acceptable work-rest schedules under different levels of the Heat Stress at Work Warning," said a spokesperson from the Labour Department in a statement.

Employers were also reminded to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance, the Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance, the Employment Ordinance, the Employees' Compensation Ordinance, and the Minimum Wage Ordinance.

'Difficulties' in execution

Employers, however, aren't warming up to the idea of a three-tier warning system, as they called out how they were only given a week to prepare for it.

"There will be great difficulties in actual execution. Workers at construction sites range from a few hundred to a few thousand with different duties. It's hard for a foreman to comprehend everything," said Hong Kong Construction Association executive director Godfrey Leung King-kwok as quoted by the South China Morning Post.

According to the executive, pausing one work type could also delay production, the SCMP reported.

In other parts of Asia, the Philippines released in April an advisory to employers urging them ensure the "safety and health of workers exposed to extreme heat."

The advisory includes taken steps to mitigate extreme heat in the workplace, as well as implementing flexible work arrangements to limit the exposure of staff to extreme heat.

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