HKGCC has commented on the Consultation Paper on the Legislative Proposal to Upgrade Fire Safety of Old Industrial Buildings. An edited version of our submission follows.
The Chamber supports the Government’s intention to update the fire safety standards of pre-1987 industrial buildings. Protecting public safety should be a core element in the renewal plans for all industrial buildings. This is subject to the following comments.
Industrial buildings in Hong Kong are increasingly being turned into workshops, gyms, art galleries, hotels, performance venues and artisan shops. A “one-size-fits-all” approach would not cater to this broad scope of business activities. Consideration should also be given to the fact that there are variations in the design and structure of industrial buildings.
The Government should ensure that any new legal requirements are subject to an appropriate grace period before they take effect, as the logistics and time required for complying with new fire safety standards should not be underestimated. We also urge the authorities to exercise restraint in taking enforcement action.
In particular, we urge caution regarding the mini-storage industry. The demand for outside storage is growing as living space becomes smaller, and there are approximately 900 mini-storages now in operation. The new regulation will affect not only the operators of storage businesses, but also potentially the Hong Kong residents who depend on these facilities when they do not have enough storage space at home.
Many of Hong Kong’s mini-storage operators are SMEs with limited capital, and the cost of renovation and installing fire equipment would create a heavy financial burden. Renovation and installation works also take time, which risks disrupting their service. Some mini-storage operators are concerned that the cost of renovation will force them to close.
The Chamber therefore recommends that the Government considers providing support and subsidies, similar to the Fire Safety Improvement Works Subsidy Scheme for composite buildings (commercial and residential) announced in 2017.
We also suggest a review of the Code of Practice for Minimum Fire Service Installations and Equipment (FSI Code), given that this was last substantially revised in 1987.
Such a review should take into account the changes in use of industrial buildings, and also the recent technological advancements and adoption of automated processes. The risks to people of automated production in industrial buildings are very low.
The FSI Code should be updated so that the provisions strike a proper balance in protecting lives and property while also ensuring that businesses are not overly burdened by regulations. While finalizing the new legislation, the Government should also carry out a proper and comprehensive impact assessment.
Building a safe environment for Hong Kong residents and companies is a common goal shared by the Government and HKGCC. We hope that the new legislative proposal will enhance fire safety with minimum adverse impact on the business sector and people’s daily lives.