Macau drafts new building safety rules after casino-linked accidents

MACAU (Reuters) - Macau is drafting new construction safety rules, officials said, after several workers died this month at casino sites amid a building boom in the world's largest gambling hub.

In an email to Reuters, the Labour Affairs Bureau of the southern Chinese territory said the new regulations would be submitted to the government this year. They would include a revision of existing occupation and laws to "safeguard workplaces for all workers".

Workers associations have asked the government to tighten labour safety laws after four workers died in industrial accidents this year, three in March alone. Last year, a total of seven workers were killed in industrial accidents.

While the fatality numbers are relatively low, and lag the 16 deaths in industrial accidents in Hong Kong last year, they are relatively rare in Macau, the only place where Chinese can legally gamble in casinos.

The spike in accidents also coincides with the rapid construction of eight multi-billion dollar integrated resorts including the Eiffel tower replica of US billionaire Sheldon Adelson's Sands China Ltd and the US$4.1 billion (S$5.64 billion) Wynn Palace by mogul Steve Wynn's Wynn Macau. All the resorts are slated to open in the next three years.

"Our government doesn't have adequate certification for the workers ... just simple training, not legislation for the workers or a more technical system," said Leo Lo, secretary general of the Macau Construction Association.

There are more than 60,000 construction workers in Macau, around half from mainland China, and workers and industry groups say pressure is intense.

While gaming revenues have tumbled for the past nine months and could post a 40 percent drop this month, construction remains on track, with Galaxy Entertainment's mega resort set to open in May and Melco Crown Entertainment's movie-inspired Studio City later this year.

"There is safety training but it needs to be higher. It is very important," said Chen, a 26-year-old worker from Guangzhou who is employed at a building site in Cotai, the Las Vegas-style casino strip where nearly all the new construction is happening.

In the wake of the accidents, the Labour Bureau said it had frozen four construction sites, including part of Galaxy Entertainment's casino project, pending investigations.

Asked about the accidents, Galaxy President Michael Mecca, told Reuters the workers' deaths were unfortunate and that the company was concerned about safety.