More than 700 office blocks built 20-plus years ago under more
lenient safety laws could be deathtraps, experts warned yesterday.
The blocks, where fire extinguishers are the only means of fire
protection, are clustered in the districts of Mongkok, Tai Kok
Tsui, Shamshuipo, Yau Ma Tei and Western.
Microwave ovens, refrigerators, heaters and copiers could be
sources of tragedy if not properly maintained.
Most of the buildings are characterised by a lack of sprinkler
systems, fire alarms and exit signs. Owners are not required
to improve them under existing laws.
Census figures show there are 60,000 private buildings in the
territory and half are more than 20 years old. Of these, 723
Fire safety specialists warn the high density of people in these
blocks poses a major problem.
A fire engineer, who refused to be named, said: " Aged blocks
themselves are not dangerous, and they are up to the fire standards
of 20 years ago.
" But 20 years ago the blocks did not house, say, a 100-staff
paging firm .
" The root of the problem is that the nature of the businesses
inside the blocks has changed, but the fire safety requirements
for the blocks have not changed correspondingly."
Property managers also warn of lax maintenance and a lack of
safety awareness among workers.
They say laws to make sprinkler and fire alarm systems compulsory
are urgently needed for all office blocks.
An upgrade of fire safety for an office block the size of the
Garley Building is estimated to cost $1 million.
Fire and Security Engineering Employees Association spokesman
Mok Kam-fai yesterday said: " There has been concern over the
huge costs involved, hut human lives are invaluable."
Simon Tsang, of security firm Chubb, said many office managers
were reluctant to invest in fire safety.
" Some do not maintain fire extinguishers, others let emergency
exits be blocked."
Jimmy Mak, of Goodwell Property Management, said it was difficult
to hold fire drills for an entire office block. " It is understandable
that it may cause great disturbance to some occupants. But organising
fire safety seminars can be a good alternative."
Director of Fire Services Peter Cheung said major fire hazards
in old blocks were blocked fire exits and improper maintenance
of electrical systems.
Occupants of the Garley Building include doctors, dentists,
trading companies, wholesalers, a paging company, record firm
and travel agencies.
Land Registry records showed the building's major shareholder
Chinese Arts & Crafts - a subsidiary company of China Resources
Holdings - paid $35.5 million in 1989 for the basement to the
It later sold units on the eighth and ninth floors.
The land lot was bought by Kai Yee Investment Company Ltd in
1970 when it cost just $1.56 million.
Chow Sang Sang Estates owns the rooftop and several other units
in the building.
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