The construction industry is booming, with mega-projects under construction, including the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and the MTR extensions. The growing number of projects means companies are hiring more people.
At Dragages Hong Kong, whose current projects include the MTR West Island Line and the Hong Kong-Shenzhen-Guangzhou Express Rail Link, a HK$5.5-million safety training centre has been built to improve safety for on-site staff.
The training centre, which began operations in late January this year, covers an area of 1,000 square metres near the Mei Foo MTR station. It features eight fully-equipped site simulations, including Hong Kong's first-ever full-sized tunnel simulator measuring some four metres in diameter.
"A lot of the people we train are on-site, practical people," says Tony Smith, corporate quality safety and environmental director at Dragages Hong Kong. "Many of them have never worked on a construction site before. So it is more about getting a safety culture and making sure that these newcomers can learn the basics of safety in a safe environment."
Dragages Hong Kong currently has a headcount of 1,732 staff - 1,131 more than in September 2010. "We have just finished training all of Dragages staff and are working on the subcontractors' staff - about 3,000 people - and the number is rising quite quickly," says Smith.
The safety training facility features three classrooms capable of training up to 70 people per day and Dragages just hired three trainers this month - two Chinese and one Nepalese. "A lot of our tunnel workers are from Nepal and it is more effective to train them in their own language," says Smith.
The training centre is operated under the company's quality safety and environmental department, which consists of a team of around 60 safety officers and engineers. "It is normally a contractual and legal requirement to have these officers on site to conduct safety inspections, making sure we are in compliance with the law."
The company has maintained a low accident frequency rate of 0.23 in 2011 - meaning there has been less than one reported accident per four million working hours, well below the industry norm.
Smith notes a shortage of quality officers and registered safety officers in the industry at the moment amid the glut of projects.
A safety officer should be registered at the Labour Department and have at least two years' experience at construction sites. Dragages hires about 10 fresh graduates a year, each with a degree in environmental and occupational safety and health from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Normally, they go on to become registered officers when they have sufficient on-site experience. The ongoing projects are a factor that keeps them in the company, says Smith.