LC Paper No. CB(1)1536/98-99
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)

Ref: CB1/BC/9/98/2

Legislative Council
Bills Committee on
Electricity (Amendment) Bill 1999

Minutes of meeting held on
Friday, 12 February 1999, at 10:45 am
in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Fred LI Wah-ming (Chairman)
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon SIN Chung-kai

Member absent :

Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP

Public officers attending :

Principal Assistant Secretary for Economic Services

Mr LEUNG Cham-tim
Regulatory Services Controller
Electrical and Mechanical Services Department

Mr CHAN Hung-cheung
Chief Electrical & Mechanical Engineer
(Electricity Legislation)
Electrical and Mechanical Services Department

Mr SIU Kam-wah
Senior Electrical & Mechanical Engineer
(Nuclear & Utility Safety)
Electrical and Mechanical Services Department

Ms Phyllis POON
Government Counsel

Clerk in attendance :

Ms Estella CHAN
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)4

Staff in attendance :

Miss Anita HO
Assistant Legal Adviser 2

Mr Daniel HUI
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)5

I Election of Chairman

Members agreed that Mr Fred LI Wah-ming should preside over the election of Chairman of the Bills Committee.

2. Mr Fred LI was nominated by Mr SIN Chung-kai and seconded by Mr CHAN Kam-lam to be the Chairman of the Bills Committee. Mr LI accepted the nomination. As there was no other nomination, Mr LI was announced the Chairman of the Bills Committee.

II Meeting with the Administration
(Legislative Council Brief (Ref. : ECON 2/3231/97) issued by the Economic Services Bureau on 15 January 1999 and Legal Service Division Report No. LS99/98-99 dated 25 January 1999)

3. Mr Ronald ARCULLI declared interest as a director of Hongkong Electric Company Limited.

4. Introducing the legislative proposals, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Economic Services (PAS/ES) advised that the proposed legislation was overdue as evidenced by the substantial number of incidents of damage to underground electricity cables and overhead electricity lines which amounted to an average of about 700 incidents per year. He further advised that a legislation was enacted in end 1996 which required contractors working in the vicinity of gas pipes to take reasonable measures to avoid damages to gas pipes. The trade had adjusted well to the new requirements and the number of incidents of damage to gas pipes had reduced. The Administration had therefore proposed similar legislation for protection of electricity supply lines by requiring contractors to take reasonable measures to ascertain the existence and alignment of electricity supply lines before carrying out works in the vicinity of such lines. The proposed legislation also included penalty provisions in order to achieve a deterrent effect. The Director of Electrical and Mechanical Services would be empowered under the proposed legislation to make Regulations which would provide for a Code of Practice to be issued by the Director. A person would be deemed to have complied with the requirements of the Regulation if he could demonstrate that he had complied with the Code of Practice.

Proposed amendment to the definition of "supply" in the Ordinance

5. Mr CHAN Kam-lam enquired about the reasons for proposing amendments to the existing definition of "supply" in the Ordinance and the scope of the new definition. PAS/ES and Chief Engineer/Electricity Legislation (CE/EL) advised that there was an existing definition of "supply" in the Ordinance and the Administration would like to indicate that the term "supply" referred only to supply of electrical products. The Assistant Legal Adviser 2 (ALA2) explained that the Administration proposed to delete the existing definition of "supply", and the new definition of "supply" would specify that the term "supply" refer only to supply of electrical products. Moreover, a definition of "electricity supply line" was proposed in order to define the subject matter to be protected under the proposed legislation.

Difficulties for contractors to comply with the proposed requirements

6. Mr ARCULLI was concerned whether contractors, particularly the small contractors, would have difficulties in complying with the proposed requirements. He asked how a contractor could find out the exact location of an underground electricity cable, and whether there was any company in Hong Kong providing service in locating underground electricity cables. In response, the Regulatory Services Controller of Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (RSC/EMSD) and CE/EL advised that a contractor should employ a Competent Person to locate the underground electricity cable as stipulated under the proposed Regulation and follow the procedures as set out in the "Code of Practice on Working near Electricity Supply Lines", a draft of which had already been issued to concerned parties for comments. (Post-meeting note : A copy of the draft Code of Practice has been issued to members vide LC Paper No. CB(1)787/98-99(02)). The contractor should obtain relevant plans from the power company concerned showing the locations of any underground electricity cables around the work site. The Competent Person could then use a cable locator to identify accurately the position of any underground electricity cables. CE/EL further advised that a cable locator costed about HK$20,000 to 40,000 and was not difficult to use. Employees of a contractor should be able to use a cable locator after attending a 2-day training course provided by the Construction Industry Training Authority (CITA). RSC/EMSD supplemented that there were a few companies in Hong Kong rendering services in locating underground electricity cables and gas pipes.

7. Mr ARCULLI pointed out that unlike gas pipes, electricity cables might have curved after being laid underground and this would create difficulties in finding out the exact depth of a cable beneath ground level. RSC/EMSD advised that the contractor concerned should after locating the alignment of the undergound cable, proceed to dig a trial hole to expose the cable and the Competent Person can then trace out the depth of the cable along the cable route through injection of a signal to the cable at the trial hole. He reiterated that given the current technology level, a cable locator could achieve very high accuracy in determining the position of an underground electricity cable.

8. Mr SIN Chung-kai said that he supported the objective of the proposed legislation but that to be effective, the proposals had to be implementable from the view point of the contractors. In this regard, he opined that if the power companies could provide digital location maps of the underground electricity cables, it would be easier for the contractors to locate the exact position of the electricity cables. CE/EL advised that Hongkong Electric have already adopted digital location maps for their underground cables and a similar system was being developed by China Light & Power and was expected to be available by the end of the year. Meanwhile the existing location maps provided by the two power companies showing underground electricity cables should be able to provide adequate information for contractors in ascertaining the existence and alignment of the cables. As requested by Mr SIN, he agreed to provide samples of such location maps for members' information.

(Post-meeting note : Samples of the location maps provided by the power companies have been circulated to members vide LC Paper No. CB(1)982/98-99)

9. Mr ARCULLI expressed concern about whether there would be sufficient "competent persons" in the market to satisfy the demand for such persons when the proposed legislation was enacted. RSC/EMSD and CE/EL advised that there were currently about 200 persons who could meet the requirements for registration as competent persons under the proposed Regulation. CITA would continue to provide relevant training courses and it was estimated that before the proposed Regulation became effective there would be about 1,000 competent persons, which should be sufficient to meet market demand.

Legal liability of contractors and "competent persons"

10. Mr ARCULLI enquired about the respective legal liabilities of a contractor and a competent person in a case of damage to underground electricity cable in which the contractor was the employer of the competent person. CE/EL advised that each case had to be assessed on its merits. However, if the contractor had taken all reasonable steps and reasonable measures as stiuplated in the Code of Practice, including the employment of a Competent Person to ascertain the alignment and depth of an underground electricity cable, it would be a defence to the charge for damaging the underground cables under the Regulation. As regards the legal liability of the Competent Person, if the damage to the underground electricity cable was caused by the default of the Competent Person in ascertaining the alignment and depth of the cable, disciplinary action would be taken against the Competent Person under the Regulation. As regards civil litigation for damaging the underground cable, CE/EL advised that the possibility of a civil claim could not be ruled out.

11. Mr ARCULLI reiterated his concern about the legal liability of contractors and competent persons in view of the severe proposed penalty provision, which included a maximum fine of $200,000 and 12 months imprisonment. PAS/ES advised that the proposed penalty was in line with those applicable to damage of gas pipes.

12. Mr ARCULLI requested the Administration to consider the options of either deleting the imprisonment terms but with heavier fines or applying the imprisonment terms only to the second or subsequent offences. Members had mixed views on whether there should be any difference between penalty provisions for damage to gas pipes and those for damage to electricity cables. Some members considered that as damage to gas pipes could lead to explosion causing serious consequences to human life and property, the penalty provision should be heavier. However some other members considered that interruption of electricity supply could also cause substantial economic loss. Moreover, a damaged overhead electricity line could be a serious threat to human life. The penalty provisions for the two types of offences should be the same. PAS/ES said that damage to electricity supply lines had resulted in fatalities and numerous cases of personal injury and that it would not be reasonable to apply imprisonment terms only to the second and subsequent offences, because the first contravention could be a more serious one. RSC/EMSD supplemented that the proposed penalty provision was the maximum penalty, which the court might not apply fully. He advised that out of the eight prosecutions made so far in relation to damages to gas pipes, the penalties imposed by the court were fines between $2,500 to $10,000 and so far no imprisonment terms had been imposed.

13. In reply to Mr ARCULLI's question, RSC/EMSD advised that EMSD would normally give warnings to a contractor before taking prosecution action.

Other issues

14. Noting that EMSD would require an additional Electrical Inspector to conduct site inspections and be responsible for other aspects of work in relation to enforcement of the proposed legislation, the Chairman enquired whether one Electrical Inspector would have sufficient time to conduct visits to the numerous work sites over the whole territory. CE/EL explained that the Electrical Inspector would be supported by one to two staff and the team would conduct regular spot checks on the works site. Moreover, EMSD could meet the demand for urgent assignments by temporary redeployment of staff.

15. Mr CHAN Kam-lam enquired about the basis for requiring a competent person to renew its registration with EMSD every three years. RSC/EMSD and CE/EL advised that the proposal aimed to ensure that a competent person was still in the trade and that the person had been kept up-to-date in attending training courses on techniques and use of equipment in locating underground electricity cables.

16. Members considered that the Code of Practice was an important document for contractors and competent persons and opined that all concerned parties should be thoroughly consulted before finalizing the Code. RSC/EMSD agreed and advised that the draft Code of Practice had been prepared in consultation with the Highways Department, the construction industry, the two power companies, etc. A consultation exercise was being conducted for the draft Code of Practice which had been sent to all relevant parties for comments by 12 March 1999.

17. As regards registration of "competent persons", CE/EL confirmed that there would be a grace period of six months before the Regulation would come into effect to allow sufficient time for persons meeting the registration requirement to be registered under the Regulation.

The way forward

18. Summing up the discussion, the Chairman said that the Administration should proceed with the following before the Bills Committee would schedule its next meeting :

  1. provide members with sample location maps made available by the power companies showing the position of underground electricity cables;

  2. organize a site visit for members to observe the operation of a cable locator;

  3. reply to the letter dated 10 February 1999 issued by ALA2 to the Administration regarding a few legal issues on the proposed legislation; and

  4. reconsider the proposed penalty provision with regard to its severity.

III Any other business

19. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 12:10 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
16 June 1999