Information Paper for Manpower Panel
Development of the Occupational Health Service
The purpose of this paper is to brief members on the latest development of the Occupational Health Service (OHS) in the Labour Department.
2. The OHS mission is to prevent and control health hazards at workplaces and to minimize the incidence of occupational diseases. At present, occupational health services are provided by the Occupational Medicine Division (OMD), the Occupational Hygiene (Development) Division and three regional Occupational Hygiene (Operations) Divisions. These divisions are under the supervision of an Occupational Health Consultant (OHC).
3. The OMD is staffed by doctors and nurses seconded from the Department of Health. The Division is responsible for the investigation of occupational diseases, medical examinations and assessment for workers in hazardous occupations as well as giving expert comments on employees compensation cases. It also runs the Kwun Tong Occupational Health Clinic, gives advice and counselling to injured workers before they return to work, conducts occupational health talks and provides medical surveillance service based on clinical consultations and survey findings.
4. The Occupational Hygiene Divisions (OHDs) are staffed by Occupational Hygienists. They are responsible for identifying occupational health hazards and advising proprietors on improvements to control measures in their workplaces. The OHDs are also responsible for setting occupational hygiene standards for employers and workers to follow, enforcing these standards in both the industrial and non-industrial sectors, preparing draft occupational health related legislation as well as conducting publicity and promotional programmes. They also operate an occupational hygiene laboratory and an accredited asbestos laboratory.
5. In 1996, 2 208 patients were seen at the Occupational Health Clinic in the Kwun Tong Jockey Club Health Centre. A total of 3 960 medical examinations and assessments for fitness for work were provided by the Occupational Health Service. 2 211 workplace investigations and 1 460 laboratory tests were also undertaken.
Expansion of Occupational Health Service (OHS)
6. As a result of the enactment of the new Occupational Safety & Health Ordinance (OSHO) in May 1997, the Service's ambit has been expanded to cover a much broader spectrum of work. A wider variety of workplaces and an additional 1.8 million employees in the non-industrial sector are now covered by the new law. We also have proposals to introduce mandatory pre-employment and periodic medical examinations for workers exposed to hazardous substances such as lead, mercury, arsenic, manganese, excessive noise by Appointed Medical Practitioners who have received training in occupational medicine. The purpose of this new scheme is to give early health warnings to workers exposed to high health risks so that we can intervene before it is too late. Our intention is to introduce this new regulation to the Factories & Industrial Undertakings Ordinance in the 1998/99 legislative session.
Expansion of Facilities
7. In anticipation of an increased demand for occupational health service, a second occupational health clinic is planned to cover West Kowloon and the New Territories in 1998/99. This new specialist clinic will be operating full-time. It can provide about 3,500 consultations a year in addition to occupational health education and promotion activities provided on the new premises.
8. A pilot occupational safety and health service centre is also planned to be set up in 1998/99. It will be established in a busy commercial area with shop front in order to promote greater public awareness of occupational safety and health. The new service centre will provide initial screening and advice on suspected occupational health problems, disseminate information and guidance on safety and health through multi-media booths, provide front-desk enquiry service, and serve as a small exhibition venue on topical subjects etc. We estimate that the new service centre will give health advice or initial medical screening to at least 30 000 workers a year.
9. The OHS has recently published a Guidance Notes on the Diagnosis of Notifiable Occupational Diseases which was sent by direct mail to every registered medical practitioner in Hong Kong. Over the next few years, our first priority in occupational health activities is to publish specific compliance standards in pamphlets, guide books and codes of practice for various trades and industries.
10. We shall intensify our publicity campaign efforts. We shall be launching a new "Good Health is Good Business" campaign, adopting a "Train the Trainer" approach, increasing networking with our partners in the medical profession and tertiary institutions, promoting good occupational hygiene practice, etc. The new publicity strategy will focus on enlisting support for occupational health concerns from top management and relating productivity and profitability with workers health and accident prevention.
11. As regards the more specific areas of concern, we shall mount a large scale promotion campaign, for example, on the awareness of occupational deafness in certain noisy processes, such as metal works, printing, piling and caisson works and implement a hearing conservation programme. We shall raise public awareness of musculoskeletal disorders and the associated ergonomic problems at work and enforce dust control in construction sites and quarries with a view to eliminating silicosis.
Reorganisation of the OHS
12. The Labour Department has been allocated additional resources in 1997/98 to enforce the new legislation and operate the additional facilities. It has created 31 posts in various ranks in 1997/98 in the Occupational Health Service (OHS) and has plan to create another 24 professional posts, including one Occupational Health Consultant post, in 1998/99.
13. As a result of the expansion of service, the number of professional and technical staff in the OHS will be increased from 38 (27 under the establishment of the Department of Health and 11 under the establishment of the Labour Department) in 1996/97 to 58 in 1997/98, and 83 in 1998/99. Together with 41 general grade staff, the OHS is expected to have a total establishment of 124 staff by 1998/99.
14. Under the reorganisation proposal for 1998/99, the existing OHC will manage the two Occupational Hygiene Divisions, the existing Kwun Tong Occupational Health Clinic and the four Regional Occupational Medicine Units on compensation work, and assist in formulating policy and strategies relating to chemical and biological health hazards at work. The new OHC post to be created will assist the Department in formulating policies and strategies relating to physical health hazards and ergonomic problems at work. He will also be responsible for the planning, supervision and operation of the second occupational health clinic and the new occupational safety and health service centre, both to be set up in 1998/99. He will implement the new promotional strategy and monitor the mandatory medical examination scheme.
15. Since June 1979, one directorate post of Consultant and 26 non-directorate medical and nursing posts in various ranks under the establishment of the former Medical & Health Services Department (now the Department of Health) have been seconded to the Labour Department. In 1997/98, 10 medical and nursing posts were created under the establishment of the Labour Department from funds allocated by the Secretary for Education and Manpower under the Safety and Health at Work programme. These new staff are also seconded from the Department of Health to serve in the OSHB of the Labour Department. The existing arrangement with establishment from two departments fails to show clearly the resources that the Government has provided for this programme area. This is not a very tidy arrangement in terms of staff deployment and command. We therefore propose to transfer all the 27 posts from the Department of Health to the Labour Department which will, in future, be the principal department responsible for all matters concerning occupational health.
16. The proposed creation of an additional Occupational Health Consultant and the transfer of establishment of 27 posts from the Department of Health to the Labour Department has been endorsed by the Committee of Occupational Safety & Health and the Labour Advisory Board. We intend to put these proposals to the Establishment Sub-Committee of the Provisional Legislative Council in early 1998.
17. With the additional manpower resources and facilities, we can assure members that much more preventive work can be done to tackle occupational diseases through legislation, promotion, education and direct clinical consultations.