For information on
16 October 1999

Legislative Council
Panel on Security

Amendments to the
Dangerous Goods Ordinance (Chapter 295)


This paper informs Members of the progress of a legislative review of the Dangerous Goods Ordinance.


2. In the context of a follow up to a cyanide spill incident in end 1997, Members of the Provisional Legislative Council were briefed in March 1998 on a package of measures to improve the control of dangerous goods, including a comprehensive review of the Dangerous Goods Ordinance in the longer term. We have now completed the review and are preparing legislation to implement the proposed improvements to the control system.

The Dangerous Goods Ordinance

3. The current version of the Dangerous Goods Ordinance was enacted in 1956. It provides for the controls on land and at sea of about 400 types of dangerous goods under ten broad Categories in accordance with their inherent characteristics as to whether the substance is, for example, explosive, flammable, toxic, corrosive, etc. The control system on classification, labelling and packaging adopted in the Ordinance followed the framework of the British system prevailing at the time. Based on the practices recommended by the United Nations (UN) Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, more specific international codes on transportation of dangerous goods by road, by sea and by air were developed and published. Regular revisions reflecting the technological changes and the requirements against the blooming global trade have made the codes increasingly suitable as a basis for domestic adoption. Over the years, many of our trade partners such as Canada, Australia, and the European Community have aligned their national rules with such codes to facilitate the growing international trade.

4. Although our Dangerous Goods Ordinance has been updated periodically since its enactment, there have not been fundamental changes to align the domestic system with the commonly adopted international system. As a result, when dangerous goods are imported, exported or re-exported through Hong Kong, they are required to comply with two distinctive sets of requirements prevailing locally and overseas. Furthermore, our own changing local circumstances have also called for new, special requirements in our control system.

Legislative Review

5. The Fire Services Department, the Civil Engineering Department and the Marine Department started a comprehensive review of the Dangerous Goods Ordinance in 1995 with a view to bringing it into line with international standards as appropriate. As most dangerous goods are imported and exported by sea, the Departments agreed that the future control system should follow the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code as far as possible, which is published by the International Maritime Organization on the basis of the UN's control system and specifically provides for recommendations in respect of control on sea carriage of dangerous goods. Furthermore, the Departments also recommended that the list of dangerous goods under the Ordinance be expanded with reference to the IMDG Code, subject to minor variations to suit local circumstances, although a number of new substances may not be commonly found in Hong Kong.

6. The review has also examined miscellaneous provisions under the Dangerous Goods Ordinance against present day circumstances, including the maximum quantities of dangerous goods which shall be exempted from various controls, and the penalties.

7. Furthermore, in the wake of the cyanide spillage incident at Tai Po Road in December 1997, the Director of Fire Services has engaged a consultant to study the conveyance of dangerous goods by vehicles with a view to tightening the controlling measures. At present, conveyance of Categories 1, 2 and 5 dangerous goods, i.e. explosives, compressed gas and flammable substances by vehicles are subject to licensing controls, given their flammable and volatile nature and hence higher risks involved. The study identified the need to expand the licensing regime to cover conveyance of dangerous goods in other Categories, implement a mandatory scheme to train drivers with specialized knowledge and skills, and require the transmission of adequate information on dangerous goods across the conveyance chain.

8. The proposed extension of the licensing regime to cover all categories of dangerous goods has been made the subject of a regulatory impact assessment study commissioned by the Business and Services Promotion Unit of the Financial Secretary's Office. The assessment was completed in mid-1999, and concluded that the new measures would be beneficial to the community as a whole, without imposing undue hardship on the trade upon implementation.

The Proposal

9. Details of our proposed changes to the regulatory framework are set out in a Consultation Document issued in March 1999 (Appendix A). We have accepted all of them subject to minor revisions and key ones are as follows -

  1. we need to expand the coverage of controls on land from about 400 types of dangerous goods under ten broad "Categories" to about 1600 types under nine broad "Classes" following the IMDG scheme of classification subject to minor local variations (a table comparing the old and new classifications is at Annex 1 to Appendix A);

  2. we need to raise the penalties for offences (with reference to generic levels prescribed in the Criminal Procedure Ordinance, Cap. 221) in order to preserve the deterrent effect eroded by inflation over time and to provide for heavier penalties for habitual offenders;

  3. in line with the trade's practice, we need to provide that the IMDG Code, in terms of coverage of dangerous goods and controls, is to be strictly followed regarding conveyance of dangerous goods on board a locally licensed vessel, but need to maintain at sea the existing controls of diesels which are not regarded as dangerous goods in the IMDG Code. Controls on land requires certain modification from the IMDG Code taking into account local circumstances;

  4. the Director of Fire Services and the Director of Marine should be empowered to issue codes of practices from time to time to provide for detailed guidance and proper practices to be followed by the trade in the handling of dangerous goods;

  5. we need to revise and update the quantities of dangerous goods under which exemptions from certain controls are allowed;

  6. we need to revise and update the packaging and labeling requirements in line with the international standards;

  7. currently, only conveyance of dangerous goods in the proposed Classes 1, 2 and 3 (or Categories 1, 2 and 5 under the existing Dangerous Goods Ordinance) is subject to licensing controls on the vehicles used. We need to extend the licensing regime to cover conveyance of all other Classes and introduce a mandatory training scheme for drivers also; and

  8. we need to introduce a registration system for Class 1 dangerous goods (i.e. explosives) in line with the control framework and legislative arrangements in our major trade partners such as UK, Canada and Australia.

2. To implement the above proposals, we will need to amend the Dangerous Goods Ordinance and its subsidiary legislation substantially, which is the subject of an on-going legislative drafting exercise. To expedite the legislative process, we propose to introduce the Dangerous Goods (Amendment) Bill into the Legislative Council within 1999, which covers the necessary amendments to the principal Ordinance, notably regarding items (a) to (d) above and the empowering provisions in general for later amendments to subsidiary legislation. Substantive amendments to subsidiary legislation concern all the above items as well as others and will follow the necessary amendments to the principal Ordinance.

Implementation Timetable

12. To facilitate compliance by the trade, we propose that a grace period of up to two years should be provided after passage of all necessary amendment legislation.

Public Consultation

13. We have kept the Dangerous Goods Standing Committee (composition and terms of reference at Appendix B) posted and consulted it throughout the review. It supports all our proposals.

14. On the basis of Appendix A, the Fire Services Department, the Civil Engineering Department and the Marine Department have also completed a territory-wide public consultation exercise, including consultation with district boards, and conducted two briefing sessions with the trade on the proposals. Furthermore, in the context of the regulatory impact assessment regarding the proposed control of conveyance of dangerous goods, the trade concerned has been further consulted. In general, the public and the trade are in support of the proposed amendments.

Security Bureau
October 1999
SBCR 1/1336/86 Pt.24