Hong Kong's vibrant cityscape is often accompanied by unpredictable weather conditions. To ensure the well-being and safety of its residents and businesses, the Hong Kong Observatory (HKO) issues weather warnings to alert the public about potential hazards. These warnings play a vital role helping individuals and companies make informed decisions and take appropriate actions during adverse weather situations. It is certainly recommended to pay attention to each signal and fully understand what precautions should be taken under such circumstances, for both employers and employees. This article outlines the most relevant warnings one might encounter in Hong Kong.
Author: Jasmine Ip, Paralegal
Comparison with Other Jurisdictions: Hong Kong not unique but more prudent
While several jurisdictions experience similar weather patterns, the specific arrangements and classifications of weather warnings differ. Hong Kong's weather warning system is tailored to its unique geographical location, its land- and cityscape and the associated risks. The city's proximity to the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean exposes it to typhoons and heavy rainstorms.
Similarly, although not to the same extent as Hong Kong, various jurisdictions send weather warnings to their citizens in different forms. For example, Singapore, known for its tropical climate, relies on the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) to issue weather warnings and keep the population updated and prepared. In Taiwan, which is similarly exposed to various weather phenomena, the Central Weather Bureau issues weather warnings to ensure typhoon preparedness, prevent landslides, and ensure the safety of employees in outdoor jobs. Additionally, in mainland China, the government sends extreme temperature alerts to help the public prepare for temperature extremes.
In comparison to different jurisdictions, Hong Kong seems to have a more prudent guideline concerning citizens' working measures. Although they may be overly cautious and occasionally disruptive, in general, the warnings have the best intentions.
Due to the distinctive weather alerts experienced in our SAR, we see value in providing a concise summary for those currently involved in or considering business endeavors in Hong Kong. Therefore, we will focus on the rain and wind warning mechanism in Hong Kong, as those are mainly relevant for business conducted in office environments.
Understanding Hong Kong's Rainstorm Warnings
The HKO issues several weather warnings pertaining to temperature, rain, wind, and other weather phenomena. The rain and wind warnings are categorized based on various levels of severity, each offering specific guidance.
During an Amber Rainstorm Warning, individuals and companies should remain alert and monitor the situation closely. Outdoor activities should be approached with caution, and vulnerable areas prone to flooding should be avoided. Staying indoors and following updates from the HKO is advisable. Under this weather warning, employees should report to work as usual. Employers are advised to be more vigilant in case this warning spells the beginning of a gradually intensifying weather system.
When a Red Rainstorm Warning is issued, it indicates heavy rain and the potential for flash floods. According to the HKO, heavy rain is defined as rainfall exceeding 50 millimetres per hour and is likely to persist. It is recommended that individuals and companies consider suspending non-essential outdoor activities. Precautions should be taken to prevent water damage, and extra care should be exercised during transportation. Remaining indoors until the warning is lifted and avoiding areas prone to flooding is prudent. Employers would do well to be lenient if employees cannot reach the office on time as traffic could experience disruption.
Unless otherwise guided to by the employer, if the red signal is issued before working hours, employees should report for duty as usual, provided that transport services are available. If the red signal is issued during office hours, employees should remain on duty as usual unless it is dangerous to do so. Employees in areas where transport services are about to be suspended can be exceptionally released at the discretion of the employer. In exercising their discretion, employers should take into account the weather and road conditions.
The Black Rainstorm Warning is issued once the amount of heavy rainfall surpasses 70 millimetres per an hour and is anticipated to persist. In case of a Black Rainstorm Warning, employees are to stay at a safe place as this volume of water can cause dangerous and unexpected situations. If the black signal is issued before working hours, employers are advised not to require their employees to travel to their place of work. If raised during working hours and employees are already at work, then it is advised that they should stay where they are, unless it is dangerous to do so.
When the rains pass and the weather warning is cancelled, employees should report back at their place of work within two hours following the cancellation, provided that three or more hours of the working day remain.
Understanding Hong Kong’s Typhoon Warnings
The HKO issues different typhoon signals to inform the public about the severity of an approaching storm. These signals are represented by a numbering system, ranging from Signal No.1 to Signal No.10. Each signal signifies the potential impact and the necessary actions to be taken by the public.
Signal No.1: Standby
When Signal No.1 is issued, it means that a tropical cyclone is approaching Hong Kong. Although the typhoon may still be far away, it is important to stay informed and prepared.
Signal No.3: Strong Winds Expected
Signal No.3 indicates that the winds are strengthening, and there is an increased possibility that Hong Kong will be affected by the typhoon.
Signal No.8: Gale or Storm Force Winds
When Signal No.8 is raised, it means that gale or storm-force winds are expected within the next few hours. This is the time to stay indoors, away from single pane windows, to ensure that all loose objects are safely stored and for employers to consider letting employees leave the office to continue working from home, if safe to do so. If issued before working hours, from this level of weather warning and higher, employers are advised not to require their employees to be present at the workplace, if that would mean forcing them to leave the safety of their shelter.
Signal No.10: Hurricane Force Winds
Signal No.10 is the highest level of warning issued by the HKO. This signal is raised when hurricane-force winds are expected to affect the city directly. During Signal No.10, it is crucial to stay indoors, away from glass windows, and take all necessary safety measures to protect oneself.
Hong Kong adverse weather is unavoidable, employers should prepare
While adverse weather warnings may disrupt normal business operations, there are measures companies can take to maintain productivity and ensure the safety of their employees. Though statutory guidance is not set regarding what employees should do when different warnings are hoisted, companies should always create internal guidelines for their staff. This could prevent unnecessary misunderstanding between both parties.
In addition, companies should consider implementing remote work arrangements or flexible working hours during adverse weather conditions. This allows employees to work from the safety of their homes while minimizing disruption to business operations.
Moreover, raising employees’ awareness and strengthening communication is beneficial. This can be achieved by establishing clear channels of communication with employees to provide timely updates on weather conditions and company protocols. It is important to educate employees about their responsibilities and the necessary actions to take during different weather warnings.
Importance of adhering to weather warnings, negligence can be life-threatening
Failure to adhere to weather warnings can possibly expose individuals and companies to legal risks. Negligence in taking reasonable precautions during severe weather events may result in accidents, injuries, or loss of life.
Examples include maintenance workers cleaning the street under extreme weather because they did not know that rainstorm signals had been hoisted. This led to several injuries, highlighting the importance of communicating about and adhering to weather warnings.
From time to time, we also learn about unfortunate casualties among construction workers, especially under poor weather conditions. In 2021, a female construction worker was sadly reported deceased after being pulled unconscious from a pile of bamboo scaffolding poles at a construction site. Ensuring the safety of employees is the responsibility of both employers and employees. To prevent more incidents like these from happening, it is crucial to adhere to guidelines.
Managing Business, Managing Weather Alerts
Hong Kong's weather warnings serve as essential tools for protecting lives and businesses from the potential dangers associated with severe weather conditions. Hence, it is essential for employees and businesses to possess extensive familiarity with advanced weather alert systems, enabling them to make well-informed choices in response to varying weather conditions. Adhering to weather warnings, mitigating risks, and implementing proactive measures ensure the safety of employees, safeguard assets, and maintain business continuity in Hong Kong's ever-changing weather landscape.
A complete overview of all guidelines can be found in this downloadable PDF document, issued by the Hong Kong Labour Department.
Disclaimer: This publication is general in nature and is not intended to constitute legal advice. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.
For specific advice about your situation, please contact:
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