Government / Statutory Bodies

New regulatory role serves the public's best interests

by Grace Chan

This is the 4th article in an eight-part series introducing winners of the Civil Service Outstanding Service Award Scheme 2009

(left to right) Vincent Yuen, electrical & mechanical engineer
Eric Lee, electrical & mechanical engineer
Leung Yiu-hong, senior electrical & mechanical engineer
Electricity Legislation Division, Electrical and Mechanical Services Department
Photo: Edde Ngan

Electrical and Mechanical Services Department develops new initiatives to improve compliance with regulations

Hong Kong Electricity (Wiring) Regulations require that the electrical installations of all residential and commercial premises are inspected, tested and certified at least once every five years. Non-compliance may lead to legal action.

"The aims of electricity law enforcement are to cut the accident rate and increase safety measures," says Leung Yiu-hong, senior electrical & mechanical engineer, Electricity Legislation Division, Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD). "Prosecution works as a useful deterrent— it does not help much to reduce the number of electrical accidents though."

He points out that the department prefers to assist involved parties to comply with regulations rather than apply the law rigidly. To achieve this, the department stepped into the role of a "Smart Electrical Safety Regulator" that focuses its efforts on communication, public education and collaboration.

A helping hand

One reason for non-compliance with regulations may be unresolved technical problems, notes Eric Lee, electrical & mechanical engineer, Electricity Legislation Division, EMSD.

"Our team is available to respond to building owners' queries about anything from requirements for obtaining the periodic test certificate to locating registered electrical contractors," he adds. "Since most building owners do not intentionally transgress, we issue them with a notice six months before the five-yearly inspection is due and give them a chance to contact us for any enquires and concerns."

"This is not an easy job," Mr Leung remarks. "Since the owners' identities of some old buildings are not always clear, we may need to locate them by checking Land Registry data before we can deliver notification letters."

The department's website contains all relevant information about the periodic test, as well as a feature that displays information about registered electrical contractors and workers in different districts of Hong Kong.

EMSD staff often attend owners' corporation meetings outside office hours and sometimes help with the establishment of such corporations. In addition, they assist building owners to apply for government subsidies to help them comply with regulations.

In spite of this, the department managed to achieve better utilisation of public resources. "Instead of instituting legal proceedings that ultimately benefit nobody, our team tries to prevent electrical accidents and ensure public safety by liaising with property management companies, owners' corporations and tradespeople to make sure periodic tests are carried out," Mr Leung notes.

Education through the print media, promotions, advertising campaigns, videos, carnivals, games and safety talks and seminars plays a key role to further public understanding of electrical safety and to reinforce good safety practices.

"We have also adopted an interesting and innovative new approach," says Vincent Yuen, electrical & mechanical engineer, Electricity Legislation Division, EMSD. "In collaboration with Hong Kong's two electricity companies, we have printed cartoons with electrical safety messages on the envelopes of all household electricity bills."

The department also features celebrities in its biannual publications, targeting consumers and registered electrical workers. Public awareness of electrical safety has, as a result, increased from 78 per cent in 2004 to 85 per cent in 2008.

Customer focus

The EMSD also seeks to increase dialogue with contractors and workers, an approach that has proved successful in the implementation of the new cable colour code (CCC), adopted for fixed electrical installations since July 2007.

Mr Leung explains that the department started engaging the trade about the new regulation as far back as 2003. He remarks, "We wanted all Hong Kong's 70,000 electrical workers to have basic knowledge of the new CCC before renewing their registrations or applying to register." The EMSD offered workers training on the code, as well as a two-year grace period.

In a bid to smooth the process, the department also developed an online platform for electrical workers to conduct self-assessment training at their convenience. "More than 99 per cent of electrical workers have by now completed the training," reveals Mr Leung.

Forging closer ties with the trade has helped to reduce injuries as a result of electrical accidents from 24 in 2006 to 17 in 2008. A total of 97 electrical incidents were reported in 2008, down from 107 in 2006.

The important role that the EMSD's Smart Electrical Safety Regulator has played in transforming electrical regulatory enforcement into a quality service has earned the department a Champion of the Regulatory/Enforcement Service Award in the 2009 Civil Service Outstanding Service Award Scheme.

Mr Yuen emphasises that the success of this particular endeavour depended on staff support and cooperation. "We customised special training sessions to hone our employees' communication and problem-solving skills, and ran workshops to develop our new law-enforcement culture and facilitate an exchange of ideas," he says.

"The award acknowledged our new approach to law enforcement as a step in the right direction," Mr Leung concludes. "Encouragingly, our staff satisfaction level in 2008 was 97 per cent, implying we're on the right track."

New direction

  • Encouraging compliance instead of prosecutions
  • Public education offered through a range of interactive channels
  • Specific training get staff up to speed with new service culture

Taken from Career Times 4 December 2009, p. A11

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